fire truck

When I read The Ledger’s feature about the Lakeland Fire Department’s restoration of a 1938 fire truck, I thought it looked cool but wondered who paid for the many hours it took to refurbish the machine. So I asked the Fire Department.

I had seen the part of the article that said purchases needed for the restoration were funded by selling vehicles that could no longer be used. But I’ll admit I hadn’t noticed the sentence that said two employees took three years to rebuild the machine “when their workloads allow.”

[media-credit name=”Michael Wilson | The Ledger” link=”” align=”alignnone” width=”728″]lena[/media-credit]

To see if there were other skeptics, I took the unscientific step of checking reader comments on the story. There were two at the time — one skeptical (“Just what we needed, smh”) and one praiseful (“A piece of Lakeland’s past that will thrill many folks in future parades! Good job, well done!”)

So I fired off an email to Janel Vasallo, the department’s spokeswoman, Tuesday night:

I just saw The Ledger story and video about Leaping Lena. Looks like she’ll be a nice entry for parades.

Was the work to restore Lena done on city time? If so, do you have an estimate of how many hours and the cost to taxpayers? Is there a public safety rationale for restoring Leaping Lena? Thanks.

I heard back from her the next day, and she gave more detail about the work. Bottom line: The mechanics were told the restoration project was their lowest priority and should be done only when there was “absolutely nothing else to work on.”

Check her response below and see what you think. I’ve followed it with a Facebook post that shows a lot of people are excited about the restored fire truck.

Hello Barry,

Hope you’re doing well. Thanks for taking interest in Leaping Lena. We are very excited to have her to use at community events.

To answer to your questions:

  • Work to restore Lena was done with funds that were gathered from the sale of auctioned off, unusable staff vehicles. The funds were set aside to pay for both manpower and parts to make the restoration possible. This was done with the approval of the Fire Chief and Assistant Chief as well as the Director of Finance at the City of Lakeland.
  • LFD Mechanics were made very aware and were clearly told that work on Lena was the lowest priority project at the shop. Lena was only to be worked on when there was absolutely nothing else to work on, which is nearly never considering how busy our department’s mechanics are and the fact that there are only 3 of them to work on apparatus, tools, equipment, and self-contained breathing apparatus. So portions of the funding were used to pay the mechanics for an hour here or there of overtime to make the restoration possible. This is also why the restoration has slowly been happening over 3 years.
  • The funds that were set aside for Lena’s restoration were $15,000. We have used $7,500.00.
  • The rationale for restoring Leaping Lena was to use the apparatus as a public relations and community building tool. We are a very active department in our community. This will be an extension of that. Leaping Lena invites people to engage with our firefighters and that in turn leads to really constructive exchanges where the community becomes aware of what their fire department does and can do for them. We want to use it for parades, that’s the obvious, but we hope to use it at community events where we do meet and greets and to engage older adults in independent and assisted living communities in Lakeland. They are our highest risk populations along with children for fire fatalities. We engage all groups but this will help us forge those relationships. Additionally we are very proud of our history as a fire department. We are one of few in the region that go back as far back as we do as a career department.

We would be really happy to accommodate anything you may need for us if you would like to do a story on the restoration or come out to film photograph/film. Please let me know how else we can help.

Janel Vasallo

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips:

Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

Leave a comment

Your Thoughts On This? (Comments are moderated; first and last name are required.)