Quad Fire Appliances
GMC Fire Engines
Landrover Fire Engines
International Fire Engines
Bedford Fire Engines
Other Rural Fire Engines
Isuzu Rural Fire Engines


During the closing years of WWII, the Forest Service commissioned the construction of what was to become the first of a large and long serving family of specially designed forest fire appliances. The New Zealand Pattern Wheeled Carriers that they were based on had a relatively short and undistinguished career, yet they have been reasonably well chronicled. The Ford Quad fire appliances were arguably more successful, however they have received scant attention. This is not designed as a definitive history of the Quad appliances, it is simply a chronicle of the information I have discovered in my research.


In 1941, the NZ Army tasked the NZ Railway Petone Workshops with producing two prototypes of a NZ Pattern Wheeled Carrier1. The project involved the production of an armoured body, based on an Indian Army design, that was to be mated with a V8 powered, rear engined, Ford 4×4 Quad chassis that were to be imported from Canada. After evaluation of the prototypes, two orders were placed in 1942 for the production and assembly of a total of 99 armoured bodies. The production was allocated to Petone NZR Workshops, and the Ford Motor Company in Petone was also involved ( a high res photo is available, courtesy of Jeff Plowman1). In February 1944 the Army halted production, by which time 76 of the vehicles had been completed with another 23 still on the production line, or awaiting the fitting of their bodies. By 1949, only 35 of the wheeled carriers remained in service with the NZ Army, and the last vehicle was withdrawn in 1957. ?

In contrast, over the same war period, NZ workshops produced about 1300 Universal Carriers, also known as Bren Gun Carriers, at a maximum rate of 5 per day. While these used the same Ford V8 petrol engines, 71 kW in power, they were tracked, and somewhat heavier at around 4 tonne.

Prototype Fire Appliance

In 1944, the State Forest Service was searching for a vehicle that could be converted into a fire engine for the protection of the increasing acres of exotic forest that the service managed. The 1942 Ford C191QRF rear engined V8 chassis that the NZ Pattern Wheeled Carriers were based on was suggested as a suitable vehicle for the project. Initially described in Forest Service correspondence as the ‘Desert Mule’, is was thought to be a suitable vehicle due to its high chassis, 4×4 capability, 10.50 x 20 shrapnel proof crosscountry tires, and the belief that they had little sale value due to their rear engine layout.

Early in March 1944, the Forest Service informed the Army Quartermaster General that the Quads they had inspected at the Petone V.R.D. Park were suitable for the project, and requested the loan of one vehicle to “try out?. Later in March, the NZ Army X Depot at Waiouru railed one Quad chassis, from which the body had been removed, to the Forest Service in Rotorua. The loan was to be until 20 April 1944. The trial involved testing its suitability for conversion to a fire engine that could carry a pumping unit & hose equipment. The test was conducted on 5 May 1944 and involved the chassis loaded with 1?? tons of cement, being driven on road and cross-country circuits which included the approaches to creek-beds and other places water was likely to be obtained. The results of the trial stated the vehicle displayed excellent mobility. Hand written side notes on the report stated that a sketch would be sent with the suggested layout for a vehicle to use the maximum width of 7? 2? for bodywork and water tanks so as to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible. A brief to the Minister of Forestry followed in May describing the vehicle, its trial and requesting the purchase of two vehicles, to be fitted – one as a hose laying & pumping unit, and one as a tank & pump. It went on to suggest if the vehicles were satisfactory at least four more would be required.

The prototype Fire Engine was built by the Colonial Motor Company of Wellington with advice from Forest Service Headquarters staff, the Wellington Chief FireOfficer and his assistant, and members of the Public Works Dept. A hiccup occurred prior to the proposed trial of the completed prototype in Rotorua when it was found that the vehicle was 1? inches too high to be transported by rail due to insufficient tunnel clearance. On 13 November 1944 the Wellington District Oil and Fuel Controller was approached for a special licence for 50 gallons of petrol to drive the Quad to Rotorua for the trial. This was approved and the vehicle was subsequently driven to Rotorua. Despite suffering several mechanical problems on the way, it averaged 7 mpg which was felt to be acceptable given the vehicle?s weight. Interestingly ?it was just able to negotiate the bridges at Tokaanu and Taupo?. Late in November 1944, the report describing the Rotorua trial was received in Wellington. The performance of the vehicle and its fire fighting equipment was described as excellent. In tests it was found capable of climbing a 1 in 3 slope and pushing through all the thick scrub it encountered. Several recommendations were made, not surprisingly including lowering the height by 1? inches.

Production Begins

In early 1945, the Forest Service purchased seventeen vehicles for conversion into fire engines, the conversion was to cost ?627/6/0 each. The armoured bodies were removed in Waiouru by the Army prior to the chassis being railed to the Colonial Motor Company in Wellington, who had received the contract to construct the fire engines. The conversion included:

ؠ???? Dismantling all equipment that was not required.

ؠ???? Supplying and fitting a geared type pump and delivery valves.

ؠ???? Constructing and fitting water tanks, and building a body to suit top and rear delivery outlets.

The Colonial Motor Company (Colmoco) was amply qualified for this task, having produced over 50 fire appliances prior to the beginning of WWII and they were also the local Ford agents, therefore were familiar with the chassis. On 1st October 1945 it was decided to order 9 additional fire engines and a further 28 vehicles for conversion into 1000 gallon Water Tankers. The budgeted cost for the second order was ?277,400 at ?900 per Fire Engine and ?850 per Fire Tanker. These costs later Increased to ?977 and ?877 respectively. Early Colmoco photographs are available : engine front, rear, side, pumping, and tanker. These were recovered by Paul Napier, who has built scale models of the fire engine and tanker).

In December 1945 the Director of the Forest Service suggested to the War Assets Realisation Board that the remaining Ford Quad chassis that were surplus to the Army’s requirements should be made available to civilian afforestation companies at the same price as the Forest Service as the converted appliances would become a national asset. Apparently no companies took up this suggestion as in 1946, 9 further chassis were acquired for conversion into pumping units. As a result of this purchase, and 2 chassis that were acquired as spares, the Forest Service had purchased all the Wheeled Pattern Carriers and unfinished chassis?s that the Army had declared surplus.

It appears that the pumping units only had the modified front bumper/panel fitted in Wellington, then they were dispatched to the respective conservancies for fitting of the pump and hose lockers. A letter of 7 November 1946 describes the method of attaching a WWII ‘Emergency Precautions Scheme? Colmoco manufactured trailer pump to a Quad chassis. The conversion involved removing the axle and springs from pump chassis and cutting off triangular section from the front of the trailer chassis. The pump complete with engine and fuel tank was then mounted across the centre of the Quad chassis behind the drivers seat.

Four extra chassis were acquired In February 1946 during the Taupo fires. Two of these vehicles were held as spares and they were initially stored at Rotorua Airport until one was subsequently moved to the Rotorua Forest Service workshop with the other being sent to the Ashley Forest workshop. A photograph in the Forest Service photo collection suggests these were complete chassis with the armoured body removed.


In July 1947, to avoid confusion, the Forest Service allocated the Ford Quad appliances the official titles of Quad Fire Engine, Quad Tanker and Quad Pumping Unit. The Quad Fire Engines were designed to directly fight bush fires. They featured a fully enclosed body constructed with a wooden frame and metal sheathing. A Colmoco 120 gpm rotary water pump, driven initially by a chain drive power take-off and later by a separate petrol engine, was fitted in the drivers cab. It could pump water to front and rear hose outlets from its 400 gallon (1800 litre) water tanks. The vehicle, which weighed 6 ? tons was designed to carry a crew of eight, as well as hoses, axes, shovels, ropes, Indian knapsack pumps, first-aid equipment, and food. The Quad Tankers were open-topped with two water tanks mounted on each side of the engine giving a total capacity of 800 gallons (3600 litre; initially planned as 1000 gallons) . They were primarily designed to maintain the water supply to the fire engines, but could if necessary deliver water directly onto a fire. The Quad Pumping Units were designed to operate over soft ground where the heavier vehicles may have difficulty. They could lay hose and pump water from the other appliances if necessary. For these tasks they were fitted with a large pump and hose lockers containing 5000 feet of hose.


The first Quad fire engines were issued to forests in November 1944. By July of 1946 newspapers through out New Zealand were reporting the introduction of the new bright red fire appliances. The 63 Quad fire appliances were issued to State Forests throughout New Zealand, eventually serving in 26 forests from the far north to the deep south; the only area that did not receive any Quad fire appliances was the South Islands West Coast “due to the well-watered nature of the Westland Conservancy”.

A list prepared in April 1946 listed the initial distribution of the first batch of 15 Quad Fire Engines as follows: numbers 1 and 2 to Rotorua; 3 to Nelson; 4 to Balmoral; 5 to Eyrewell; 6 to Invercargill; 7 to Rotorua; 8 to Karioi; 9 to Whangamata; 10 to Rotorua; 11 to Maramarua; 12 and 13 to Rotorua; 14 to Riverhead; 15 to Rotorua. 16 and 17 were still under construction in Wellington. The initial (July 1946) distribution of the 28 Quad tankers to Conservancies was: Rotorua 10; Auckland 5; 0hakune 2; Canterbury 5; Nelson 3; and Southland 3. The exact distribution of the 9 Quad Pumping Units is not known but they wore allocated to forests that lacked natural water sources. At least one went to Golden Downs; Canterbury received two and Southland two. The lineup (without a pumping unit) at Golden Downs around the 1950s is shown:

Golden Downs, Nelson, fire demo, 1949

There is a 1949 film (right) that shows the Golden Downs fire trucks in action.

In mid 1951 a return was prepared for the distribution of 60 modification kits to prevent
?the Quads jumping out of gear at high speed. At this time the 63 Quad appliances were distributed as follows:



???? Woodhill



Pebbly Hill
Conical Hill
Golden Downs




The three Quads that are missing from this list had been previously fitted with the modification and were operated by the Rotorua conservancy. In addition to the two spare chassis previously mentioned, as the Army withdrew its remaining Wheeled Pattern Carriers in the late 1950s, several were transferred to the Forest Service at no cost, to be stripped for spares and to replace chassis that had been damaged or destroyed in fires. These vehicles were acquired with their armoured bodies intact.


During the forty odd years that the Quad appliances remained in service, many modifications were introduced, both official and unof ficial. Following their first major baptism by fire (no pun intended) during the Taupo fires of early 1946, several changes were recommended to the Quad Fire Engine. They included:

ؠ???? Fitting an independent 4 cylinder 10 hp engine inside the vehicle, mounted on top of the water tank driving through a clutch and chain drive to power the water pump. This was required as the PTO system that was fitted was unsatisfactory as the vehicle’s engine was required to maintain high revolutions when moving cross country, causing the pump to over pressure.

ؠ???? Moving the petrol tanks inside the body.

ؠ???? Raising the rear operating step to floor level and fitting a srnall folding step reaching half way to the ground.

ؠ???? Cutting away the body around the cab sides to allow a better turning circle.

ؠ???? Eliminating one internal locker to allow the pump and engine to be mounted in the rear body.

ؠ???? Fitting a rear fender.

All the recommendations were adopted and were incorporated in the vehicles still under construction with the exception of:

ؠ???? Moving the petrol tanks inside the body. Instead the standard twin Quad tanks were retained under the rear body but they were protected by 1/8″ steel plate.

ؠ???? One complete internal locker was not completely removed, only sufficient to fit the new Waukesha engine.

Late in 1946 several conservancies sent in correspondence identifying faults with the newly introduced Quad Tankers. They included:

ؠ???? The rear springs wore flattening out or even inverting. There was considerable discussion and conflicting views on this problem. The Army stated this was normal behaviour on the vehicle when fitted with the armoured body and the springs were designed to perform this way. Eventually extra spring leaves were fitted resulting in a total of 13.

ؠ???? A small wind shield was required to protect the driver from stones thrown from other vehicles. Due to the numerous different patterns that appeared, this appears to have been solved locally.

ؠ???? Guards to protect the driver from stones thrown from the front wheels of his vehicle. Again local modifications appeared ranging from conventional curved mudguards on Canterbury Tankers to the construction of flat plate sides that sloped out towards the top that effectively enclosed the driver to shoulder level on at least one Tanker at Rotorua.

ؠ???? A separate engine was required to drive the water pump as the PTO was too fast at anything above an idle. Again much discussion resulted from this request. It was silenced by the Forest Service Headquarters reminding all users that the tanker was primarily designed to transport water to the f ire engines, not fight fires on the move, therefore the PTO, when used on a stationary vehicle was sufficient to fill the tanks from a water source.

Due to shortages, many appliances were initially issued without headlights which did not become available until late 1946. The subsequent fitting was apparently the responsibility of individual conservancies and this resulted in Fire Engines with headlights mounted as shown on several different places on the brush guards, and at least one example had the headlights recessed flush into the front of the cab. Photographic evidence also highlights many minor changes that were introduced to individual appliances. Tankers sprouted miscellaneous stowage boxes wherever they could be fitted, and one surviving example sports a crude air scoop above the engine designed to prevent the engine overheating. At least one Auckland area Quad Tanker was fitted with a manually operated, folding “A? frame recovery boom on the top of the water tanks. This example is now part of the MOTAT collection, however the boom and fittings have been removed.


An early as March 1953, Forest Service Headquarters were considering the replacement of the Quad family. In that month, a letter was sent to all conservancies requesting a report on the condition and mileages of all their Quad fleet to determine their condition, life expectancy, spares held and spares required to keep the fleet running. Interesting the replies suggested the fleet was in good order with many vehicles still only having 2-3000 miles on the clock and few areas required more spares. One problem that was widespread however was corrosion in the water tanks. As a result of this, several different methods of protecting the tank interiors with special paint treatments were recommended by the Forest Service Headquarters.

In a briefing note to the Minister of Forests in early August 1957, the Director of the Forest Service Mr A.R. Entrican included the following statement:

“At present the Forest Service has 63 Fire Engines built on four wheel drive chassis which were acquired from the Army in 1942, and which have given reasonable service, not withstanding they are slow and difficult to drive. Their life has been hard, as the vehicles have had to cross rough ground and under heavy loads as expeditiously as possible, and after 15 years of such treatment they are becoming unreliable and expensive to maintain”.

They are being kept in service by ?cannibalising” further chassis obtained from the Army, but this source of spare parts is ending. Further spares will be obtainable only by wrecking the vehicles in service which is hardly satisfactory, as the parts are already worn, and the fleet will diminish In numbers?.

The cost of replacements was then discussed in detail and a programme of replacement over 7-8 years was proposed. A replacement programme was approved by Cabinet on 11 August 1957.

The Forest Service annual report for 1957 in discussing the vehicles followed a similar vein. The statement included “Over the years these machines have provided versatile and Indispensable equipment for the protection on the managed forests” and went on to say ?This year a reasonably priced chassis suitable for forest firefighting requirements became available, and a five-year programme to replace the whole fleet has been planned, to start with six machines during the financial year 1958-59?.

Although the replacement programme was started in the 1958-59 financial year, many of the Quads lingered on for up to a further 20 years and a few remained in service with the Forest Service and later Timberlands until the late 1980’s. The Timberlands, Southern Region Headquarters, replying to a query from Mr Paul Whiting stated on 6 May 1987, that their Hamner Quad Tanker was still in service, although it was believed to be the last running. Later still, the Fire Service Historical Society purchased the Eyrewell Forest Quad Pumper in 1990 for $350.

Because their disposal was the responsibility of individual conservancies, I have very little Information on this subject; however approximately 13 ex-Forest Service appliances and original AOPs (Artillery 0bservation Posts) purchased direct from Burnham were wrecked at Ashburton Forks Engineering (west of Ashburton). In June 1995, on this site, there is a Quad Fire Engine in running order, a Quad Fire Engine lying on its side with no engine or axles, water tanks from at least 3 more Fire Engines and a set of rear water tanks from a Quad Tanker. A large ?A? frame crane has been built on a Quad chassis which now features a Bedford RL cab on the rear over the engine.

Post Forest Service

At least one Quad Fire Engine was purchased from the Forest Service by a volunteer fire brigade, interestingly this appliance purchased In 1965 served at Harihari (South Westland), the one area that the Forest Service had not operated them. This appliance is still operational at Ashburton Forks. A second Quad appliance was operated by the Luggate Fire Brigade after the Vincent County Council donated an ex-Forest Service Quad Tender/Tanker in 1966. The Kaingaroa State Forest Industrial Fire Brigade operated a Quad Fire Engine. While the appliance remained Forest Service property, the brigade was registered as part of the NZ Fire Service. This appliance was replaced by the Forest Service in 1970-71.

Several examples survive today including examples at MOTAT and as part of the Fire Service Historical collection at Ferrymead Historic Park. In an interesting twist, several of the ex-fire appliances are now being converted back into Wheeled Pattern Carriers by military vehicle enthusiasts. The first that underwent this process is now part of the Army Museum collection in Walouru.

GMC Fire Engines

It was apparent that the Forest Service fleet of Quad fire appliances was insufficient, and these were augmented by other vehicles such as GMC or Chevrolet 4WD engines, again surplus from WWII. These were also used outside? of the Forest Service.

Landrover Fire Engines

Small Landrover fire engines, usually built by Carmichael in the UK, became popular with fire boards, particularly in country areas. The popularity began with the Series 1 Landrovers in the early 1950s, and persisted through the 1960s with the Series 2 and Series 3 variants. A few of these got modified to modernise them. A few forward control Landrover trucks were imported, particularly as crew vehicles by NZ Electricity Department, and these got adapted as fire engines. The NZ Fire Service had about six? purpose- built by Carmichaels in the UK as FT6 or Redwing light rescue tenders in the 1960s.? One of these (ex-Temuka Fire Brigade) is in the Ferrymead Museum, Chrishchurch, and another (1964, shown right) was still in service in 2010 at Rakaia Gorge. With the introduction of Toyota Landcruisers, these and other Japanese 4WDs became the preferred chassis’ for light 4WD fire engines from the 1970s.

?The imported Landrover fire engines had rear-mounted PTO 960 lpm Amag pump and 180 or 320 litre tanks. The FT6/Redwings also used the Amag pumps.

International Fire Engines

The appliances chosen by the Forest Service to replace the Quads were largely International AA160s. These were single cab, 4WD that a custom-designed lockered body with a 2050 litre tank. A PTO-driven pump was not installed; instead, the ubiquitous Wajax portable oump was used. The vehicle did have a hose reel. They were configured similar to this 1965 C1600.

While there is recollection of a 1960 model, the bulk of them were 1964-67. They served through to the 1990s. There was a 1966 Beford J2 (1800 litre tank, Hale PTO pump, leter replaced by Wajax) that was initially stationed at Rai Velley, and later (1991) at Tapawera.??

Bedford Fire Engines

The MFR2 model 4WD trucks had double crew cabs and a simple rear consisting of a skid-mounted 2700 litre tank with a Wajax portable pump. They were produced in the 1970s and replaced the AA160 Internationals, becoming the standard appliance of the Forest Service in the late 1970s and 1980s. Use persisted through to the 2000s. They were slow, particularly uphill.

Some forestry companies such as Baigents also used the MFR2 Bedford. Single cab TK Bedfords were also used by private forestry companies such as NZ Forest Products. The NZ Fire Service had some 18 Model MK65 Bedford fire engines built by Wormald in 1978/79. These were also 4WD/crew cab and were allocated to country brigades. They had 1200 or 1360 litre tanks and either a Waterous pump rated at 1680 lpm, or a Darley of 1380 lpm. At least one was still in use in late 2008.

In the mid-1970s, a number of ‘Green Goddesses’, so called because of their green? colour were imported into NZ from the UK. The UK held a large fleet of these in case an emergency fire service needed to be mobilised as part of a civil defence response. In 1993, the stockpile in England still numbered 1078 Green Goddesses, and they had last been used during a Fire Service dispute in 1977-78. Built in the mid-1950s by Vass, they were modeled on an RL chassis and used a Sigmund 4200 lpm pump with a useful water tank. Repainted, they were largely distributed among NZFS brigades, but some were adopted by VRFFs. The photo shows one at the Ferrymead museum that has been restored back to its ‘as-received’ status.

Other Rural Fire Engines

Fire services that were not part of the NZ Forest Service or NZ Fire Service have used a large variety of vehicles as fire engines. Particularly in the early days, volunteer rural fire forces were poorly funded, and made do with engines disposed of from Fire Brigades. These were normally 2WD and not well suited for vegetation fire suppression. However, most the VRFFs were formed to protect rural property, and, while old, these were acceptable.? Landrover fire engines were particularly sought after. The 1960 example shown opposite had a curious history – the NZ Fire Service got rid of it twice!. It was originally owned by the Akaroa Urban Fire Authority, and passed into Fire Service ownership in 1976 as assets were taken over with nationalisation. In 1981 it was bought from the NZFS by Westland County Council, and stationed in Franz Josef with the VRFF. However, this force became a brigade auxillary of the Fox Glacier Fire Brigade in 1984, and the vehicle was back in NZFS ownership. In 1992, its disposal became permanent, and the Wainuiomata Bushfire bought it.? In 1999, it was sold to Whangarei DC, and passed on to the Whangaruru RFF.

Companies with large plantation assets have had to maintain their own suppression resources, including fleets of fire engines. The 1990 photo on right shows the Kinleith fleet of NZ Forest Products, including 3 Isuzu 4WD fire engines.? In 1990, Tsman Forestry was looking after forests valued at $1.6B. For this, it had over 400 staff and contracters trained in fire suppression, and 15 monsoon buckets, five 4WD Mercedes Benz engines (3600 litre tanks), two 12,000 litre slip-on tanks, and an ex-dairy tanker. NZ has been fortunate in that several companies (Mills Tui, Wormald, Fraser Fire & Rescue, SPEL) have been capable of building fire engines to high specifications, and have done so for the NZ Fire Service and rural authorities. In 1989, Mills Tui completed delivery of 18 Hino GT175 trucks built for Defence. These had 2900 litre tanks with 2 portable pumps mounted on the rear deck. Some of these Hino have since been sold to RFAs. And the Department of Conservation has had a number of engines based on Hino trucks built to replace the vehicles that were inherited from the Forest Service.

Post-Forest Service, the requirement of RFAs to meet suppression responsibilities has seen an upsurge in modern engines and tankers, usually built to RFA specification on second-hand chassis’s by local engineering firms. This has ensured both innovation and a diveristy in design. Unlike Fire Service appliances, there are very few with PTO pumps, with most relying on mounted portable pumps. Water capacities tend to be larger, and 4WD fire engines are much common.


Isuzu Rural Fire Engines

Although there had been new appliances appearing in the rural fleet, the average age of those being used by VRFFs remained too high. Some Japanese fire engines had been imported in the 1990s, but these already been in service? for 10-15 years. Furthermore, even although they may have been 4WD, they were not quite appropriate in an unmodified form. Lowes Ind. built a speculative vehicle aimed at VRFF in 1995. Shown opposite, this Isuzu NPR350 had a low slung 1800 litre tank.

The NRFA was aware of the need for modernisation, and persuaded the Minister of Internal Affairs to boost the Grant Assistance Scheme by $0.5M to start a 2:1 subsidy programme to enable RFAs to equip their VRFFs with brand new 4WD fire engines. 5-6 rural fire engines based single-cab 4WD Isuzu trucks are produced each year. These have 1800 litre water tanks plumbed through to deck-mounted Wajax BB-4 portable pumps with attached Class A foam proportioners.


1. J. Plowman, Armoured Fighting Vehicles of New Zealand 1939-59, Kiwi Armour No. 4, 2003