Firefighters donate vintage fire truck to safety program

Published on Wed, Aug 21, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Blaine’s vintage 1949 American LaFrance fire engine has found a new home.

Last month, the iconic red engine that gives Santa Claus a lift into town each year was handed over to Bellingham-based Firefighters for Fun, a nonprofit educational program that teaches safety, prevention and preparation courses for children and families.

It’s the second time the engine has changed hands since it was put into service back in 1949 when it was brand new. 

“It’s got a long history here. It was originally owned by the city of Blaine,” said volunteer firefighter Lane Renskers, who 
organized the donation of the engine to Firefighters for Fun. “It was retired in 1988 and then transferred over to the Blaine Volunteer Firefighters Association when District 13 took over firefighter operations for the city. We’ve kept it as an antique engine and used it solely for community events since then.”

Renskers cited a lack of interest and ability for upkeep as reasons for the truck’s donation. “We’re just running out of room and don’t really have a place to store it,” he said. 

Rest assured, the well-loved engine has found its way into good hands. Renskers said the new owner, John Bartleson, director of Firefighters for Fun, is a fire truck enthusiast and plans to keep the engine as is. “He’s a retired firefighter and he collects fire trucks. He fell in love with it when he saw it,” Renskers said. “It was a perfect fit for what he needed for his program.”

Firefighters For Fun was started 30 years ago as a response to the “needless death and injury” Bartleson saw all too regularly as a firefighter and paramedic with the Bellingham Fire Department. Noting that many of the incidents were results of children and families simply lacking awareness and training about fire prevention and basic life-safety techniques, he decided he could help people learn by offering fun and informative classes that cover the basics and teach people to make a plan.

In addition to the programming, he and his wife Lori have written a fire- and life-safety book for children and their families that addresses fire, roads, water, bicycle, earthquake, poison and gun safety and gives advice on how to call for help. 

The 1949 engine will join Bartleson’s collection of engines, ladder trucks, rescue trucks and aid units, and become part of Firefighters for Fun’s entourage as they demonstrate emergency preparedness procedures. 

And, in the meantime, it might even get an update on the gold-leaf lettering that designates it as a Blaine fire engine.

“They won’t be taking that away,” Renskers said. “It will still say Blaine.”

But, what about Santa?

“We are still welcome to use the truck whenever we need it as part of the terms of the donation,” Renskers said. 

“We’ll still be able to ride in the parades and bring Santa to town. We’re really thankful for that.”