About 3,000 firefighters from around Iowa attended Saturday’s session of the 139th annual Iowa Firefighters Association Convention in Forest City, including nine members of the Perry Volunteer Fire Department.
First held in 1878, this year’s annual convention ran Sept. 6-10 and including a wide variety of activities, such as camping, golf, bowling, many firefighter-related contests and plentiful dining and dancing.
Joining Perry Fire Chief Chris Hinds at Saturday’s events were his fellow Perry firefighters Joel Bragg, Frank Eiteman, Ronny Defenbaugh, Deanna Eiteman, Brian Eiteman, Kimberly Williams, Jay Rice and Rodney Cromwell.
A parade was the highlight of the Saturday festivities, and Perry’s 1956 Ward LaFrance pumper truck took first place in the Best Fire Truck 1951-1960 category.
“Believe it or not, that ol’ gal can still give modern pumpers a run for their money,” said Cory Atkins of Perry, a former volunteer on the force.
Perry bought its Ward LaFrance truck new in 1956. It replaced a 1915 American LaFrance unit that remained in service until 1972 for the PVFD, according to Brian Eiteman, first assistant fire chief with the PVFD and curator of the Iowa Fire Museum and Fire Prevention Education Center.
Both LaFrance companies were headquartered in Elmira, New York. Ward LaFrance ceased operation in 1979, and American LaFrance stopped manufacturing in 2014.
The LaFrance companies had roots going back to about 1832. The American LaFrance Fire Engine Co. formed in 1903 and built horse-drawn, steam-powered fire engines, hose wagons and hook and ladders to chemical engines and later produced chemical engines, combination pumpers, aerial ladder trucks, Aero Chief snorkel trucks and airport crash trucks, according to the company’s history.
The Ward LaFrance Truck Co.’s “distinctive name plate could soon be found on an array of diverse vehicles, such as tank wreckers for the military, vans for UPS, over-the-road tractors, cement trucks, dump trucks, chassis for buses and trolleys and even an armored car or two. If it had wheels and it was a truck, odds are that Ward LaFrance built it at one time or another,” according to company literature.