1947 American LaFrance – One Hundred Foot Challenge

american-lafranceShe was parked on the west side of the hose tower. The rays of the sun were shining down through the open cab upon the black leather seats. The truck was stabilized by an arm on both sides with giant threads which appeared to be adjustable if you had a giant wrench.


The ladder was extended upwards almost to the edge of the sun. I was told the driver aimed for the sun when he extended her, but in her old age she had developed a slight arch when extended the full one hundred foot. So, the ladder tip ended up just to the left side of the sun.

Next to the base of the ladder on both sides were two red tubes that looked like grenade launchers. These were the hydraulic cylinders that raised and lowered the ladder.

If I wanted to be a firefighter, my task was simple. I needed to climb to the top, touch the tip, then climb down. All in less than ten minutes.

But, there’s something strange about climbing a gigantic ladder – especially a crooked one – that’s sticking straight up into the air. And stranger yet, it’s not leaning against a supportive structure – like a building.

All kinds of thoughts go through your brain. What if one of those tiny support arms fails? What if one of the hydraulic cylinders holding up the ladder sprouts a leak? Thoughts turn to fear.

The palms began to perspire. The heart beat increased – both in rate and intensity. And, I got a big lump in my throat. Did I really want to be a firefighter?

Yes, was the answer. But, it wasn’t a deep manly yes – it was more like a grade school girl yes.

So, I climbed up to the turntable. As I stood at the base the very top wasn’t quite visible. I was just about to change my mind when the time keeper asked, “Are you ready?” Right before I gave the “thumbs up”, I told myself the death would at least be instant.

The first fifty feet went fast. A hand rail on both sides gave me a sense of security. This wasn’t too bad after all. But the ladder started to narrow. And then the side rail was no longer.

The sun was getting closer as the ladder skinnied down to what seemed to be a size that fit my preboarding child like voice. I had reached the curve point. And it made me feel like there was a super magnet pulling me towards the left.

It was at that point the time keeper shouted, “Five minute mark!” I refused to look down. Up, up, up another sixteen feet. The red painted tip was now in reach. I stretched my arm until I feared it would disconnect from the socket. Slowly my fingers encircled the rung.

Looking down at the pea-sized time keeper he appeared to wave his hand. That was enough acknowledgement for me.

The speed of the trip up the ladder was liken a turtle stampeding through peanut butter. The one down the ladder was liken a rabbit being chased by a beagle. Within what seemed like seconds I was standing next to the time keeper.

All that remained was to ensure he saw me reach the top. And he did.

We all go through challenges in life. In many ways facing and overcoming those challenges is what molds us.

My career as a firefighter began with a “One Hundred Foot Challenge.”

by Fire Chief Steve Moody

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