The 1927 Fire Engine

In 1927, the McHenry Fire Department needed a new fire truck as theirs’ was involved in an accident and needed to be replaced. The community was able to come together through fundraising, mostly from the American Legion, to get the truck. While responding to a fire alarm on July 6, 1927, three members of the McHenry Fire Department were involved in an accident at the Pearl Street bridge. The old iron bridge could only fit one vehicle at a time. The fire truck was trying to avoid getting into an accident with an automobile already on the bridge and hit the guardrail at a high rate of speed. Upon impact, the three firemen who were on the truck were thrown from the vehicle and knocked unconscious. The truck hit the bridge so hard that the wheel climbed the side of the bridge tipping the truck over. People who saw the accident ran to help, even checking the Fox River to make sure firemen weren’t in the water. The truck was severely damaged and required extensive repairs costing around $2000, prompting the city to look for a new one. To add insult to injury, the fire that the Fire Department was responding to, was a grass fire that some children were able to put out.

Picture of the fire truck in front of City Hall. Courtesy of the City of McHenry.

After the accident, Mayor Peter Frett and the city leaders had to come up with a plan to have fire protection until their truck could be fixed. A few days after the accident, the leaders went up to the Peter Pirsch Company in Kenosha for a truck with a pump. They had purchased the truck involved in the accident from the Pirsch Company. Estimates had a new fire truck costing the city about $5000. There was insurance on the old truck, but the policy didn’t include collision damage. While the city was getting money together for a new truck, they acquired a smaller truck with a tank that could be used should a fire break out. Fundraising went somewhat slowly, despite the efforts of the McHenry branch of the American Legion. The Legion, led by chairman J.L. Worth, collected funds, hosted events and spearheaded the overall effort. The largest fundraising event was a three-day long carnival held during the Labor Day weekend at City Park, which included a merry-go-round. Fundraising at the carnival was also held for the three firefighters who were injured during the accident. Two had broken arms and the other had a concussion that kept him in the Woodstock Hospital for a while. None of the firemen had been able to work since the accident. The carnival was a huge success, bringing in over $1000. After the carnival, the city only needed $900 to get their truck. On Sept 15, the Legion gave the money that they had raised to the city, which along with the trade-in for the old truck would just about cover the cost of the new vehicle.

Advertisement for the Carnival taken from the 1 Sep 1927 issue of the McHenry Plaindealer.

In November 1927, the city was able to purchase and picked up the new fire truck from the Peter Pirsch Company. Going with the Pirsch Company had a few advantages, including having a history with the company and a relatively short drive if repair or parts were needed. The engine had a 70 horsepower pump and a 500-gallon tank and overall, the new rig cost $6500. It didn’t take long for the new truck to prove itself. About a month after the city got the truck, on Dec 4th, at roughly one in the morning, the Unti Ice House was reported as being on fire. It was mainly empty, as the ice had been used up during the summer. By the time the fire was reported and the fire department was able to respond, the building’s roof and interior walls were pretty much lost. However, despite the fact they were facing a raging fire, the new truck and its crew were able to quickly put out the fire. People were impressed that the truck could shoot the water several feet over the tall building. The truck would go on to serve the city for many years. In the end, it was donated by the Fire Protection District in 1964 to Pearl Street Park (City Park). It would serve the city there as it was noted as being one of the favorite playthings at the park.


  • “’City Fire Truck Strikes Bridge.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 7 Jul 1927, 1. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’Injured Firemen Slowly Recovering.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 14 Jul 1927, 1. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’More money needed for Legion Fire Fund.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 4 Aug 1927, 1. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’City Gives Legion Old Fire Truck.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 11 Aug 1927, 1. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’Big Fire Carnival.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 25 Aug 1927, 1. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’American Legion Fire Fund Grows Slowly.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 1 Sep 1927, 8. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’Firemen To Stage Three Day Carnival.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 1 Sep 1927, 1. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’Carnival Receipts Swell Fire Fund.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 8 Sep 1927, 5. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’Legion Post Turns Over Fire Fund.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 22 Sep 1927, 1. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’McHenry Receives New Fire Truck.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 3 Nov 1927, 1. Web. 14 Dec 2022.
  • “’New Fire Truck Shows Efficiency.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 8 Dec 1927, 1. Web. 14 Dec 2022.