The Pirsch Fire Apparatus Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin was one of America’s premier builders of fire equipment. Together with Mack, in 1931 Pirsch introduced the first aerial truck to use hydraulic and mechanical power to raise, extend, and turn its aerial ladder.
Until its introduction, aerial trucks used the “spring assist” design or relied on an unwieldy system built around compressed air or water pressure from a hydrant.
The introduction of hydraulic pumps to lift the aerial into position was one of the most important innovations in fire fighting technology. The modern American fire service uses hydraulic pumps to power its aerial ladders, tower ladders, squirt units, outriggers, searchlight towers, and a wide variety of other devices.
This truck, built in 1937 for Pirsch’s home town, uses a mixture of hydraulic and mechanical equipment to operate its 85 foot ladder. The ladder is made from single lengths of clear grained Douglas Fir from the forests of western Oregon. Wood of this quality was very difficult to obtain, but was critical to the strength and durability of the ladder. Steel rods spanning vertical posts provide trusses to provide additional strength and rigidity.
The “stick” and its trusses can be compared to a bridge that is raised into the air instead of spanning a stream or gulley. Like many aerials, this one also has a “Ladder Pipe” mounted at the ladder’s tip to play water on a fire.
The paint and decorations are original. It is rare for a piece of apparatus to survive in such excellent condition after 30 years of active service in a large town in a cold, wet area where road salt is used.