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Rising from the ashes: Why an antique firetruck was worth restoring

denver fire fire truck number 4.jpg
Posted at 9:00 PM, May 31, 2023

There are currently about 45 fire trucks and engines in service with the Denver Fire Department. But one engine in particular, that no longer fights fires, holds a job that might be comparable in importance. And there was a time that it might have been lost forever.

“If it could talk, it would be a bedtime story that would last a decade,” retired Denver firefighter Dan Farley said, smiling when referencing his 'passion' for nearly 15 years.

Farley is the director of the Denver Firefighters Museum. Part of his job includes the upkeep of several antique fire trucks that call the museum home. The centerpiece of that collection is Engine Number Four.

“It was used for public relations for the museum,” he explained.

The so-called ‘rig’ is from the 1950s, and was used by the museum until one day in May of 2012.

A firetruck… on fire

“As tradition and habit, we had it parked out on front (of the museum). I was cleaning it up and getting ready to back it in and we had a backfire in the rig and it caught fire,” Farley said.

Cell phone video shows the firetruck, engulfed in flames, while sitting in front of the firefighters museum.

“When it first burned and when I first saw the video, I cried,” Farley remembered.

But 2012 would not be the end of watch for ‘E.O.4.’

“There’s no way in hell this was gonna sit on the curb. None,” Farley told Denver7.

Because the main job of the 1950s antique fire engine was just that important.

“Funerals. For firefighters when they pass away,” Farley explained. “A memorial rig to honor the people from the Denver Fire Department for their last ride.”

From 1988 to the fire in 2012, Engine No. 4 took part in more than 200 firefighter funerals.

“We can rebuild it”

Enter Steve Montoya, another recently retired Denver firefighter. After he heard about the damage that was done to the antique engine-turned-hearse, he knew he had to do something.

“The first thing I thought was, 'we can rebuild it,'” he said.

Montoya single-handedly took on the job of restoring the burnt-up antique truck. He took the ‘rig’ into his home garage, taking apart, fixing, repainting, and reinstalling thousands of pieces.

“Every nut and bolt. A lot of them I polished them before I put them back on,” he explained.

Doing it all without any kind of instruction manual, for a total of half-a-year.

“Almost six months it was; 40 hours a week at least,” he said. “But it was just a labor of love."

A ‘phoenix’

The door to the Denver Firefighters Museum opened, as a bright and shining white truck rolled out. Engine Number Four was back to its former glory, thanks to the dedication of a former firefighter.

“What (Steve) did with the rig was short of amazing,” Farley said. “It was a phoenix. It rose from the ashes and it’s better than it’s ever been.”

The antique truck is also now back to its former job.

“You take a very sad day for a family when they’re burying their loved ones and this rig shows up and it makes it special,” Farley said.

“I’m giving back to them. Them and their families,” Montoya said. “It’s everything. It’s an honor.”

The full restored engine is on display daily at the Denver Firefighters Museum. For more information, head to https://denverfirefightersmuseum.org.