Surplus Army Truck Recruited As Texas Brush Fire Fighter
Photo by Montie Stewart Young
Every rancher knows about brush fires. Flames rush from clumps of grass to sage or mesquite in an ever widening circle, and fire fighters become exhausted trying to gain control.
Chief John Carlisle of the Corpus Christi, Tex., Fire Department learned about brush fires, too, after that rapidly growing city annexed areas of sand and brush to the south. His trucks could patrol only the edges of the fires, stopping to spray a section, then shifting into road gear and moving to another area. Truck tires got too hot and one truck that stalled became a victim of what it had come to destroy.
The chief learned that a brush fire spreads with great speed. Corpus Christi’s high winds added to the problem, and an entirely new fire fighting technique had to be developed.
The department bought an Army surplus 1951 GMC truck with an automatic transmission, six-wheel drive, and a tandem rear axle. The automatic transmission provided smoother going through the sand and scrub, and the six-wheel drive and tandem axle maintained better traction.
The engine was tuned and the cab repaired before the truck was painted red.
A tank was mounted on the truck bed. The crew cut up a metal container, once used for shipping aircraft engines, and welded it into an 850-gallon water tank, about 12 1/2 feet long and 4 feet high, with baffles.
A pump and a separate engine were installed behind the tank. Thus the pump can be operated while the truck is moving, a tremendous help in fighting rapidly moving brush fires.
The fire fighters found that standing on top of the tank was too hazardous, so two navigator seats, complete with belts, were salvaged from a wrecked Navy plane, These were mounted about 5 feet apart on top of the tank. They have the dual advantage of providing safety and of giving the men a good view.
This truck can be driven through, as well as around, the perimeter of a fire. Once into the burn, the firemen found that it was not necessary to use large streams when they aimed nozzles with the wind at their backs. They could use a nozzle delivering about 25 gpm. They also discovered that by making a running attack around the perimeter of a fire, they could control approximately 100 acres per hour.
The truck which is stationed close to the brush area, can also be operated as a pumper at hydrants. The conversion job paid off so well that neighboring towns are adapting Chief Carlisle’s plans to their own requirements.