An aerial fire fighter from the land of unlimited possibilities, Part 1

The Curtiss Model F flying boat known as Aerial Truck No.1 of the San Diego Fire Department. Chief Engineer Louis Almgren, Jr., on the left, and pilot Orvar Sigurd Thorsten Meyerhofer. Anon., “ –.” Deutsche Luftfahrer-Zeitschrift, 22 September 1917, 21.

Yours truly has said it before and will say it again. The library of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, is the best publicly accessible library of its type in the country. The stories you find in the magazines that fill its mobile shelves are truly fascinating. The photo above brings one of these stories to life. It can be found in the 22 September 1917 issue of the German monthly magazine Deutsche Luftfahrer-Zeitschrift. Interestingly enough, this story took place in the United States, a country at war with the German Empire. Using his keen sense of observation, backed up by a few translation websites and some online newspaper archives, this writer was able to figure out that what we have here is, in all likelihood, the first aerial fire fighting vehicle in history. Incidentally, the title of this article is a personal translation of the first words of the caption of the photo found in the aforementioned German magazine.

In early June 1917, the Chief Engineer of the San Diego Fire Department, in other words the fire chief, made an announcement. Louis Almgren, Jr. indicated that his department, known today as the Fire-Rescue Department, would soon gain access to a flying machine, in all likelihood a Curtiss Model F. Normally stationed at a local aviation school, this flying boat would be used to battle fires in the waterfront area of the great city of San Diego, California. The speed of the Model F would be very useful in that regard. Interestingly enough, the chemical extinguishers carried on board were to be discharged in mid flight. Almgren seemingly planned to join the flying boat’s pilot, Orvar Sigurd Thorsten “Swede” Meyerhofer, in such operations. The Model F may even have been fitted with an electric projector at the front, for night time flights. That particular detail came from the 6 July 1918 issue of La Presse, a very successful newspaper published in Montréal, Québec. The full page (colour?) drawing on the front page of that issue showed, among other things, the Aerial Truck No.1 in all its glory. The flying boat went into service during the summer of 1917. Sadly enough, this pioneering vehicle never fought a fire. Yours truly does not know when it was taken out of service.

Meyerhofer had been in San Diego for some time when Almgren contacted him. In 1917, he operated an aerial ferry service with a Model F – possibly the very flying boat known as Aerial Truck No.1. Over a period of six months, he may have carried up to 2 000 people, one at a time. Meyerhofer’s involvement with the San Diego Fire Department was not his only public service job. In 1919, he became the first member of the Venice Aero Police. To quote a local newspaper, the Venice Evening Vanguard, the creation of this force was probably one of the most original and world-beating stunts ever pulled in California. If truth be told, Meyerhofer’s swearing in ceremony was a media circus, with plenty of newsreel cameras, which befitted the stunt flying capital of the United States, as the city of Venice was sometimes called. Himself a stunt pilot, Meyerhofer flew his own airplane whenever duty called. In most cases, however, he and his few colleagues played a ceremonial role; they transported dignitaries. The Venice Aero Police was disbanded between 1923 and 1925.

Sadly, Meyerhofer died in an aircraft related accident in 1920. He was 33 or 34 years old. It should be noted that Almgren played a crucial role in the history of San Diego’s fire department. This successful businessman was Chief Engineer between 1909 and 1935. He died in 1961 at age 85. Oddly enough, Almgren’s parents and Meyerhofer himself were born in Sweden.

Was this story to your liking, my reading friend? If so, you may wish to return to this website in a few days. Yours truly would like to offer you some Canadian content connected in some small way to Aerial Truck No.1.

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Rénald Fortier