By Janet Wilmoth, 08/16/2007
A few years ago, several retired firefighters from the Tucson (Ariz.) Fire Department decided that they should open a fire museum. Unfortunately, a lack of both money and a building to house the museum prohibited the idea. However, the men were determined to find a memorable project to work on, so they decided to buy an old fire truck and convert it to a hearse that could be used for retired firefighters’ funerals.
The retirees formed the Last Alarm Foundation Inc., a non-profit foundation that would fund their project and allow the Tucson community to express its appreciation for retired heroes at the same time. Assisting the retirees in this project is Daniel Matlick, development director for the foundation and president of United Fire, a safety equipment distributor in Tucson.
“Since it’s prohibitive to take an active fire truck out of service for funerals, having a designated and restored fire truck available would allow firefighters who did not die in the line of duty to have an honorable funeral,” Matlick said. “Those are frequently the last wishes that we are trying so hard to fulfill.”
After some negotiating, the retirees bought a 1954 Mack L model fire truck for $1,200. They removed the truck’s hosebed and designed a 32-inch lift on which a casket could be placed and raised.
“We have got to get it working really good because when you’re in a funeral parade, it can’t break down,” said Ed Montano, one of the project’s founders. “We got a bid to put in a new engine, drive-train [and] differential, and then we got another company that will do the painting for us.”
According to Montano, there are many retired firefighters from New York, Chicago and other parts of the country who now live in the Tucson area. These men and women could get an honorable burial using the fire truck hearse.
“We work on the truck two days a week, from 8 to 12, so it’s a slow process. When we’re done it will be worth $150,000,” said Montano, laughing. “Most of the time we spend time talking old war stories because we’re all retired firefighters.”
For more information about the foundation and the fire truck hearse project, go to www.lastalarmfoundation.org or call 520.305.1263.