Eight classic fire department vehicles and other antique firefighting artifacts are without a home after the Reno City Council sold the building out from under the collection.
At the time, council members were unaware that the collection, restored and maintained by the non-profit Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus organization, was inside the warehouse at 260 B Winter St. The sale took place in December and wasn’t subject to the public hearing requirements that apply to the disposal of surplus property (the building). By linking this sale to an affordable housing project, the city was allowed to sidestep public notice and surplus-property disposal regulations.
The non-profit group, city staff members and Reno Fire Department officials are planning to meet to discuss finding a new home for the collection, which includes eight antique firefighting vehicles and hundreds of artifacts from the now-dormant Reno Fire Department Museum. The collection and vehicles were previously housed at the old Central Fire Station at 200 Evans Ave. That station was razed in 2008 to make way for the Aces baseball stadium and the collection was went into storage in the building on Winter Street.
“We very much appreciate the City’s generosity in being allowed to share the space for the last 13 years,” said Jon Wagner, a retired Reno firefighter and president of the Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus group. He said having the space available allowed the organization to complete the restoration of a 1917 American LaFrance tractor-drawn aerial ladder, Reno’s first motorized aerial ladder, and purchase the 1916 Seagrave Chemical Engine, the city’s first motorized fire engine.
Building’s contents overlooked
“We believe preserving this collection of Reno’s history is of value to the citizens of Reno in understanding our past and local government’s role in the development and protection of the City of Reno,” Wagner said. Both the group members, who had hoped to bid on the building if it was offered for sale, and Reno Fire Department officials were unaware of the pending sale until after it was final.
Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, who has toured the fire museum and considers the collection a valuable educational resource, said she didn’t realize it was affected by the surplus property sale until after the council voted on the deal. She previously had asked that if the warehouse involved was ever proposed for sale that council members be alerted. She was told that would occur if there “was ever any proposal to terminate our agreement” with the (firefighters’ group).
“Then this property came forward to be sold and it was not disclosed to council that this was the building that housed the collection,” she said, but it’s isn’t possible to reverse the sale. She suggested Wagner “propose to the city another lease arrangement for a different property, if one would work out.” Wagner did so earlier this year..
“The Reno city manager and Reno Fire Chief will be meeting with Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus representatives to figure out a plan for the collection, but we have not committed to any specific course of action. At this point, the city is exploring its options. The City does intend to preserve the collection.” – Matthew Brown, Reno city spokesman.
So far, no meeting date has been set. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. According to the sale agreement, the contents of the warehouse must be moved out of the building by the end of September.
Wagner is scheduled to do a talk about the collection and the restoration of one of the fire engines Aug. 19 on “High Noon: Shootout With Neal Cobb,” sponsored by the Nevada Historical Society. Details and registration are online.
100 years of firefighting
Eight historical Reno FD vehicles are stored at the building. The Reno Fire Department owns four of the vehicles and most of the artifacts that are part of this collection. The non-profit group owns the other four trucks.
“If there were ever an opportunity to have a Reno History Museum, this collection could help make it a world-class museum. It also ties in very closely with the Hot August Nights classic vehicle theme that is an integral part of Reno’s future.” – Jon Wagner, president of the Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus organization.
The fire apparatus runs the gamut from a horse-drawn wagon to a 1972 pumper truck. Artifacts in the Reno Fire Department collection include antique hose nozzles, extinguishers, and other fire-fighting equipment, firefighter badges and examples of 1800s’ and early-1900s’ technology.
For example, starting in 1898, the old pull-alarm boxes on Reno street corners were wired into a dispatch box at the central station that would sound a series of bells and punch holes in paper tape to reveal the location of the alarm. It was an early form of a computer, Wagner said.
Wagner noted that while the collection has been stored in the warehouse, group members have worked hard to preserve it. In addition, he said, “the city council, the Reno Historic Resources Commission and the Historic Reno Preservation Society have generously supported us over the years.”
Wagner said he is hopeful the collection will find a new home. The collection also is supported by Reno firefighters who volunteer to donate $10 monthly to the non-profit group and community donations, which can be sent to: The Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus, 7885 N. Virginia St., Reno, NV 89506. Checks should be made out to RFACA.
Here’s a look at other vehicles and artifacts:
“The fire department has kept this collection together since 1900. I don’t want to be the one who is in charge when it was broken up. I’d like to keep it together and eventually get it to a place where the public can enjoy it.” — Jon Wagner, president of the Reno Fire Antique and Classic Apparatus organization.
This 1972 American LaFrance 1,250-gallon pumper truck served Reno from 1961, until it was sold or transferred to the Sierrabrook, Calif. Volunteer Fire Department around 1986. It was donated to the Reno group about 10 years ago and awaits restoration. “It’s the classic Norman Rockwell fire engine,” Wagner said.