Updated: Aug 28
New England was the home of many early builders of motor fire apparatus. Among the earliest was D.E. McCann & Sons. Daniel E. McCann was a blacksmith and carriage maker who opened a shop in Portland, Maine, in 1872. When McCann died in 1907, his 21-year-old son Carl took over the business. His older brother Dennis left his job in New York City and returned to Portland to join the business with Carl. In 1909, the McCann brothers sold their first fire apparatus. This was a horse-drawn combination wagon for the Portland Fire Department.
The McCann brothers then became dealers for Oldsmobile, Locomobile, Auburn and Chandler automobiles as well as several makes of commercial trucks. These included Knox and, later, Indiana Trucks in the late teens and early 1920s. Carl McCann was active in, and later would be the President of, the Portland Automobile Dealers’ Association.
In 1912, D.E. McCann & Sons built its first motor fire apparatus. Two years later, the McCann factory burned down. Undeterred, the McCanns built a new and larger factory and continued in business.
Initially McCann used a variety of commercial truck chassis for fire apparatus. Many were built on Ford and REO chassis. In the 1920s McCann built some fire apparatus on custom fire chassis that were purchased from the Stutz Fire Engine Company of Indianapolis. Later McCann used Diamond-T chassis. In 1927 McCann introduced its own line of custom fire apparatus. For a small regional builder, this was a significant accomplishment.
In the 1930s McCann started building fire apparatus on Gramm and Brockway chassis in addition to the other commercial makes that it had used in the 1920s. In the mid-1930s McCann redesigned the front ends of its custom apparatus. These bore a strong resemblance to Maxim custom apparatus all well as apparatus built by the Buffalo Fire Appliance Corporation of Buffalo, New York. In 1931, McCann moved its manufacturing operation from Portland down U.S. Route 1 to a facility in neighboring Scarborough.
In the 1930s McCann sold some apparatus outside of New England. These included a pumper sold to Laytonsville, Maryland, in 1930, and a pair sold to Ridgefield Part, New Jersey, as well as a trio of triple combination pumpers for Washington, D.C. in 1935. The Washington, D.C. contract proved to be a nightmare.
The District’s Fire Chief was unhappy that McCann was the low bidder because he wanted American-LaFrance to get the contract. He told Carl McCann that McCann was going to wish that he never had been awarded the contract. Problems with the Waterous pump on one of the three delayed their acceptance by the District. The delay cost McCann $12,000 on the $40,000 contract. Because of the low regard that the D.C. Chief had for the trio of McCann pumpers, one was assigned to Engine Company 4. This was the sole “negro” company in the segregated Washington D.C. Fire Department.
McCann ceased building fire apparatus around 1950. Examples of McCann fire apparatus can be found in several museums, including the Cole Transportation Museum, the Maine State Museum, the Exeter Fire Museum, the Portland Fire Museum. Several others are owned by fire companies and private collectors.
Much more information about the story D.E. McCann & Sons Fire Apparatus can be found in McCann Fire Trucks, by Elizabeth A. McCann, a 2006 self-published book by the daughter of Carl McCann.