Police, city attorney examine antique firetruck involved in Bangor July 4 parade fatal collision

The antique tractor and antique firetruck ride along in the Fourth of July parade in Bangor. An accident involving the vehicles occurred on Water Street where the man on the tractor was killed.
Courtesy of Richard Shaw
The antique tractor and antique firetruck ride along in the Fourth of July parade in Bangor. An accident involving the vehicles occurred on Water Street where the man on the tractor was killed.
Posted July 22, 2013, at 1:13 p.m.
Last modified July 22, 2013, at 5:06 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Investigators are in the process of examining the 1930 McCann Pumper involved in the fatal Fourth of July parade collision to determine whether the antique firetruck has any braking or mechanical problems, according to city and police officials.

“They are currently working on the [vehicle] autopsy,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Monday morning. “There is no official report yet.”

Wallace Fenlason, 63, of Holden was killed instantly during Bangor’s holiday parade when the vintage 1941 John Deere tractor he was driving was struck from behind on Water Street by the antique firetruck, police have said. Off-duty firefighter Patrick Heathcote, 29, of Levant was driving the firetruck and was placed on paid leave the day after the accident. He returned to work last week.

While Maine State Police inspectors review the workings of the antique truck with Bangor detectives, City Solicitor Norm Heitmann has spent time researching who is responsible for the museum vehicle’s maintenance.

He discovered a 1984 agreement between the city and the McCann Committee, which was made up of eight firefighters at the time and then-Fire Chief Robert J. Burke. The committee was formed to preserve the antique firetruck.

“It was just wasting away and the guys decided they wanted to restore it,” Burke said Monday, adding that then-Assistant Chief Darrell Webb was the chairman of the committee and led the charge to have the vehicle restored.

“Whereas, the McCann Committee desires to recondition, repair, maintain, operate and use said fire truck for parades, displays, and other ceremonial purposes,” the parties agree to a mutual six-point covenant, the Oct. 7, 1983, agreement states.

The agreement says that the city will not sell the historic fire fighting water hauler if the committee repaired and reconditioned the truck “to a reasonable operating condition.”

“The vehicle shall only be operated by a member of the Bangor Fire Department, and shall only be used for parades, displays, and other ceremonial purposes,” the agreement states. “The committee agrees to provide, at its expense, all necessary repairs and maintenance for said fire truck.”

The last line of the McCann-city agreement states that correspondence between the two parties can be sent through the city manager and fire chief.

“I have not found any more information about that committee,” Heitmann said Monday. “We turned that [agreement] over to our insurance company.”

The agreement says the city owns the truck, and the insurance company is researching who is responsible for any liability, he said.

State police Lt. Wesley Hussey, who commands Troop E in Orono, said the commercial vehicle enforcement unit is assisting with the vehicle inspection. Bangor detectives and Officer Jim Dearing, who is leading the investigation, continue to work with state police on determining what caused the deadly crash, Edwards said.

The parade from Brewer to Bangor was rerouted onto Water Street because of a police standoff on Park Street that started earlier in the day in downtown Bangor. A Detroit, Mich., man allegedly shot up his apartment and out his window into the street, and was later arrested.

The tragic events in Bangor have led some to consider changing state rules about vehicle inspections for designated antique vehicles, which currently are not required, said Firefly Restoration owner-operator Andy Swift, of Hope, an expert and restorer of antique fire apparatus.

“It’s a game changer,” said Swift, who has been restoring fire trucks for nearly three decades. “As time goes on we have to relook at antique vehicles inspections, as much as I want to stick a fork in my eye saying that.”

Antique vehicles are any motor vehicle manufactured at least 25 years ago, and registered as such with the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles.

There are approximately 22,500 antique vehicles and motorcycles registered in Maine, according to Garry Hinkley, director of vehicle services for the state’s DMV.

The number of four-wheel antique vehicles fluctuates annually, he said, but this year has jumped by nearly 800 in the last three weeks, increasing from 18,976 on July 1 to 19,765 on Monday.

“This is the highest I’ve ever seen it,” Hinkley said.

Swift, who owns and drives a 1927 American LaFrance firetruck and a 1974 BMW motorcycle, said he has enjoyed the freedoms allowed under state law, but said he understands, “It’s more for our safety.”

When fire officials call him about their old trucks, Swift said he stresses safety and knowing the vehicle when heading out onto roadways. Older vehicles don’t have power steering and anti-lock brakes that most drivers nowadays are accustomed to having, so time behind the wheel is important.

“I always suggest being familiar with what they’re doing,” Swift said. “I think driver training is important.”

The longtime firetruck restorer said he likes the fact that only Bangor firefighters can drive the antique firetruck that is typically on display at the Hose 5 Museum on State Street.

“That I thought was pretty smart,” he said.

Swift said he worked on the clutch of the 1930 McCann pumper back in the mid-1980s, but “it wasn’t even on the truck” and he remembers little else about the Queen City’s historic vehicle.

The firefighters used donations to restore the old truck to its former glory, Burke said.

“It took quite a while. It didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “They searched for parts and, after it was finished, had it repainted. They did a heck of a job.”

The vehicle was in perfect running order the last time he had any dealings with it, which was years ago, Burke said, adding he is not sure who is responsible nowadays for its maintenance upkeep.

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