Taming the flames

by Andy Bryenton

This week’s blast from the past looks at a machine that served the Dargaville community in the days of big hair, tight jeans and the Red Menace. In 1980 Jimmy Carter was US President, and in his country, the Dodge Motor Company of Detroit produced the RG 15 fire appliance.

One such machine, JO6199, was deployed to Dargaville later that year, and in many ways, it was a first. It was the first diesel fire engine for our volunteers, the first machine paid for by the NZ Fire Service (previous vehicles were bought by the council) and the first to pack high-pressure hoses. The US-branded Dodge came as a cab and chassis built up in England, imported by Todd Motors in Auckland, then sent to Mills Tui Fire Apparatus in Rotorua for fit-out with American-built Darley fire pumps and gear.

The Big Dodge had power where it counted, though. The company are famous for big V8s (see the Charger, Challenger, Hellcat and Ram), and they didn’t disappoint with a 540 cubic inch Hemi diesel delivering 180 horsepower and mountains of torque. Part of the reason for this was the main Darley pump, run off the engine, which could throughput 54 litres a second. Many a fire met its match when that big machine started pumping, during the 16 years JO6199 served the Dargaville brigade.

In 1996, a further upgrade saw the big red Dodge move to Russell, where it served as their second fire engine right through until 2005. A reliable machine, it was used as a relief fire appliance across Northland until 2007, filling in for vehicles struck down for maintenance.

After being sold to the Far North District Council for the grand sum of $9.20, JO6199 served in rural Towai for two years, before returning home to Dargaville. The volunteer brigade restored the old Dodge to its former glory in time for their 100 years celebration in 2013, and now the venerable firefighting machine takes pride of place in the collection of the Kaipara Vintage Machinery Club.