Information for Antique Fire Apparatus Owners

Owning and operating an antique fire apparatus requires some special considerations. Here is some information to help you:


California requires that all motor vehicles operated on public roads must carry proof of current liability insurance. Many insurance companies offer special rates for antique vehicles. Two of the best-known antique vehicle insurance companies are:

Condon & Skelly, 121 E. Kings Highway, Suite 203, Maple Shade, NJ 08052. (800) 257-9496.

J.C. Taylor Inc, 320 S. 69th Street, Upper Darby, PA 19082. (800) 345-8290.

These companies offer liability, collision, property damage, and comprehensive insurance at very reasonable rates. There are certain restrictions, however, including limited annual mileage, no commercial use, no participation in timed events, and others.

Vehicle Registration

In California, most antique fire apparatus are registered as a "Historical Vehicle". This classification simply requires that the vehicle be more than 25 years old. It has very low registration fees compared to the commercial classification that normally applies to vehicles of this size. Consult your local DMV office for details.

Operator's License

Most two-axle antique fire apparatus (one front axle and one rear axle) may be operated with a Class C driver's license that applies to automobiles. Three-axle trucks, tractor-trailer vehicles, and tankers require a special license. Ditto for two-axle trucks with air brakes or with GVWR over a certain weight. Some driver licenses must be accompanied by a current medical examiner's certificate. Again, consult your local DMV office for details.

Lights and Sirens

The emergency warning lights and sirens on an antique fire apparatus must not be turned on while the apparatus is operated on public roads. To be completely legal, all forward-facing red lenses must be covered, and the siren must be electrically disconnected. The only exception is when an apparatus is participating in a parade or other special event where local law enforcement authorities have given permission in advance.

Use of Antique Apparatus at Emergencies

Don't do it unless asked by authorized emergency service personnel, or unless you're protecting your own property -- and then think twice! If you do not have the training, equipment, or stamina to handle an emergency, you may do more harm than good.

Seat Belts

California now requires seat belts for all occupants of a vehicle. Antique apparatus without seat belts should have them installed by a competent vehicle service facility. It is extremely important that the seat belts be anchored to a strong structural member on the apparatus. Most sheet metal cab floors are not strong enough.

Turn Signals

Many antique apparatus were not originally equipped with turn signals. We recommend that all antique apparatus have turn signals installed -- either fixed or removable. Drivers of apparatus without turn signals should restrict their driving and should use the approved hand signals to indicate turns and lane changes.

Safety Manual and Required Safety Items

California Chapter of SPAAMFAA members who own apparatus are issued a chapter safety manual. This manual lists the rules and restrictions that apply to apparatus participating in a chapter-sponsored event. Each apparatus owner should read these materials and keep them handy on their apparatus. Violation of the safety rules and restrictions may result in suspension or expulsion from the chapter.

The California Chapter of SPAAMFAA requires that all apparatus owners must present proof of current liability insurance for the apparatus in order to participate in any chapter-sponsored event. (See Insurance above.) The chapter also requires that the apparatus must carry one pair of wheel chocks for the rear wheels and one operating fire extinguisher with a minimum UL rating of 2A10BC. Pumpers must have operating discharge pressure gauges and shut-off valves. Aerials must have operating stabilizers and/or jacks with ground plates as supplied by the manufacturer.


Carrying the proper equipment makes an apparatus look better -- and makes it more fun to use. For pumpers, we recommend a minimum of 200 feet of 2-1/2-inch hose, 100 feet of 1-1/2-inch hose (or booster hose) with a shut-off nozzle, one 2-1/2-inch double female connector, a hydrant wrench, and two lengths of hard suction hose. Many manufacturers used different threads on their hard suction hoses and pump inlets -- if you have hard suctions, keep them; if you have to buy hard suctions, make sure the threads fit and the gaskets seat snugly.


All apparatus owners are expected to perform the required maintenance on their vehicles as specified in the manufacturer's maintenance manual. This includes periodic inspections of all components and systems, including fluid levels. We also recommend that apparatus owners perform a physical check of the tires, lights, brakes, steering, and other critical parts before departing on a trip.


Many old apparatus have small leaks -- oil, radiator coolant, transmission fluid, etc. If your rig has a leak and you can't fix it, please use something to catch the drips when you park at an event. This will prevent staining the pavement or creating a slip hazard.

Vehicle Speed and Travel Distance

A rough rule of thumb for operating pre-1960 antique apparatus is to not drive them any faster or farther than the last two digits of the year of manufacture -- 25 mph and 25 miles for a 1925 rig, or 45 mph and 45 miles for a 1945 rig. These old rigs simply aren't designed to be driven faster or farther!

Storage and Parking

The paint on antique apparatus can fade badly when exposed to the sun. We recommend inside storage when possible. If the apparatus is covered with a tarp, the tarp should be suspended so it does not rub on any part of the rig. If the apparatus is to be stored for several months, the battery should be removed or disconnected. Apparatus with hard rubber tires should be stored on axle stands to elevate the tires off the ground. Apparatus owners who store their rigs at home should be aware that many communities have restrictions regarding storing or parking larger vehicles in residential areas.

Parts, Service, and Information

National SPAAMFAA publishes a Resources Guide, which lists many sources of parts, service, and information. You must be a member of National SPAAMFAA to receive it. The monthly Hemmings Motor News magazine also lists many sources. California Chapter of SPAAMFAA newsletter lists buy-sell-want ads at no charge.

Professional Image

When you operate your antique apparatus, remember that many people will think you are part of a fire department. Drive courteously and act professionally at all times.