NEWBURYPORT — Deep inside Fire Department headquarters is a roughly 20-foot-long piece of history that, with some hard work and recently approved grant money, will someday roll out of the Greenleaf Street station.
For now, the 1938 Maxim fire engine is not going anywhere. But that could change in the months to come after the city’s Community Preservation Committee approved $76,728 to renovate the engine. The committee is charged with approving money through the Community Preservation Act.
“It’s exciting,” Deputy Fire Chief Steve Bradbury said of the likely restoration.
The act, adopted in 2002, allows for a 2% surcharge on real estate taxes to fund projects in the spirit of community preservation.
Recently, the Fire Department sent out an invitation for bids on the project, a requirement for all requests over $50,000, according to Fire Chief Christopher LeClaire.
The invitation sets a deadline of March 1. It is hoped that if a bid is accepted by the city, work can begin quickly.
Bradbury said there are not many businesses making such repairs, which could extend the project. But with luck, Engine 3 could be back on the road before the end of the year.
The fire truck was purchased by the department in 1938 and was in service for more than seven decades before it was mothballed in 2013. Since then, the vehicle has been used in parades and public education events, according to the CPA grant application.
“Bossy Gillis bought it,” Bradbury said, referring to the city’s infamous former mayor. “It’s just an iconic piece.”
Andrew J. “Bossy” Gillis served as mayor from 1928-32, 1936-37, 1950-53 and 1958-59.
The engine also has been used for countless funeral processions, carrying the coffins of firefighters, according to Bradbury.
He said the truck has not been used to fight a fire since the 1980s. For decades, its main duty was to pump floodwater away from the city’s wastewater treatment plant next to the Merrimack River.
For many years, firefighters and friends of the department made repairs to the truck to keep it in service. Even when the engine blew in 1978, the repairs were done in-house with money out of the department’s budget. It has received “restorative maintenance” to mechanical systems to maintain its road worthiness.
But with the body and cab starting to deteriorate, it’s not possible to fix the truck without outside help, according to Bradbury.
The plan, according to the application, is to complete a full restoration of Engine 3 to create a “living piece of history during school programs, civic events and firefighting history events that residents, visitors, and others can see and touch and learn how far firefighting technology has come since 1930.”
The CPA budget request amount came after receiving a $66,728 repair estimate from Coastal Truck & Auto Body of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in February 2020, according to the grant application.
“It has significant historical value. It would be a travesty if we allowed this historic, irreplaceable piece of firefighting history to fade away,” the application reads.
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.