Airfield Crash Rescue Jeeps


Jeeps have long been a logical part of airport fire fighting, because aircraft do not follow roads, and if they crash, even in the vicinity of an airport, it is likely to be in an off-road area. Some of these photos have appeared on other pages on the website, but I thought it made sense to assemble them in a chronological look at the technology. Footnotes to reference sources are at the bottom of the page. -- Derek Redmond

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide gas (CO2) extinguishers were developed before World War II by the Walter Kidde Company for use on burning electrical equipment. (1) They instantly deprive a fire of oxygen without scattering burning liquids such as gasoline, making them also a logical choice for rapid response to an airplane fire.

Kidde ad

This Kidde advertisement from near the end of the Second World War is an update of a 1944 version. Click the image for the full ad.

The text says: "Coast Guard airports find a new job for the versatile jeep. They've manned it with asbestos-clad fire-fighters, loaded it with Kidde carbon dioxide extinguishers. This tough little 'fire engine' can rush right up to crash-fires or other blazes, hit them hard and fast with fire-smothering carbon dioxide gas."

29AA92 The Coast Guard were not the only ones to equip jeeps for crash rescue during WWII. Royal Air Force Crash Jeeps were standardized in 1944, and carried two twelve-pound CO2 extinguishers as well as other gear. They were painted olive drab, with a red windshield.

Experience with aircraft fires during the war, as well as fires aboard Navy ships, would eventually lead to advances in firefighting technology.

Germany This is reportedly a U.S. Army vehicle in postwar Germany. The motor pool in some unit has put a lot of work into modifying this Ford GPW with a steel hardtop and body extension to carry a three-cylinder CO2 system as well as a couple of extinguishers. Thanks to Ted Heinbuch for the photo.


Palmdale, 1948 This WWII surplus jeep at Palmdale Regional Airport in northern Los Angeles County is equipped with a CO2 extinguisher. In the background is what appears to be a surplus Class 135 military crash truck.

The photo is undated, but the Jeep's yellow-on-black "Octagon E" license plate (tax-exempt plate for county-owned vehicles) would indicate 1963-1968.

There was also more capable apparatus by then at Palmdale, since by 1953 the airport had also been the site of the U.S. Air Force's huge "Plant 42" military aircraft manufacturing facility, still active today.(2) Douglas Aircraft had purchased several custom Jeep fire engines in the 1950s for use at Palmdale (see "Crown Firecoach" below.)

One event which probably encouraged updated fire protection at the airfield was the infamous "Battle of Palmdale" on 16 August 1956. An unmanned Grumman Hellcat, being used as a target drone for missile testing, went rogue after taking off from Palmdale. It eventually ran out of fuel and crashed in the desert, after two USAF F-89 Scorpions were scrambled but failed to shoot it down with a barrage of air-to-air missiles, which caused damage and extensive fires on the ground, but no fatalities. (3)

Dutch Air Force

In January 1953, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht or "KLu") took the concept of Jeeps with CO2 extinguishers to the extreme, when they ordered 27 CJ-3As from Willys importer H.C.L. Sieberg, with modifications by P.J. Pennock & Sons in The Hague.

Netherlands LM-21-68 The KLu Jeeps carried multiple CO2 cannisters, two floodlights with 24V PTO generator and 120-ft. cables, tools including 24V power saws, and multiple cylinders of methyl bromide, a highly toxic gas used at the time as an extinguishing agent because it not only cut off the oxygen, but actually inhibited the chain reaction of burning. (1) See a rear view (160K JPEG) of the Pennock modifications.

The 3As could also pull trailers carrying eight more bottles of methyl bromide. Photos courtesy Jan Hogendoorn.

LM-19-72 One of the KLu CJ-3As poses here (behind the David Brown aircraft tug on the right side of the photo) as part of a 1964 display at Twente Air Base, of the necessary ground equipment and personnel to support an F-104 Starfighter -- a plane developed at Palmdale in the early 1950s. (4)

Photo copyright NIMH.

Netherlands LM-19-72 This closer view shows the Jeep in the same display, and it's still looking pretty good eleven years after delivery. It's manned by two firefighters in asbestos proximity suits.

For more on Dutch Air Force fire Jeeps, see Kronenburg Fire Jeeps in the Netherlands on CJ3B.info.


AtlantaA CJ-6 at the Atlanta Airport Fire Station is a slightly later example of a Jeep with a full load of carbon dioxide cylinders. The CJ-6 made good use of its extra rear capacity compared to shorter-wheelbase Jeeps.

A mobile CO2 unit allowed very fast response, but for a fire of any significant size, backup by something like a foam truck would be needed because once the CO2 is dispersed, flames could quickly reignite. See also an extinguisher-equipped Calgary Airport Fire Jeep which the airport probably relied on more for response to calls from the parking garage than incidents on the flight line.

Protein Foam

LM-19-72 In November 1958, LIFE (5) published this photo of "a blizzard of thick, white, fire-snuffing foam" being used on a fiery crash between two planes at New York's Idlewild Airport. See the full story of this incident, including a CJ-3B baggage loader playing a role, in Jeep Helps Out at Airport Fire on CJ3B.info.

This kind of foam is produced by mixing a soybean protein concentrate into water as it's pumped to the nozzle, and it both cools the fire and sits on top to cut off the oxygen, preventing reignition. (6)

Little Squirt demo One of the few experiments in putting a large foam gun on a Jeep, was conducted in the early 1950s by the U.S. Navy, who initially converted a WWII surplus jeep to carry 200 gallons of water, 20 gallons of foam concentrate, and an agitator to mix the two.

It was demonstrated to the press in October 1952. Photo by Ed Walston of the International News Photo agency.

Little Squirt CJ-3B The Navy then built another version of what they dubbed "Little Squirt," on a new CJ-3B. See more details and photos in U.S. Navy Crash Jeep Prototype on CJ3B.info. Photo courtesy Fire Trucks at War.

There were apparently hopes of selling a civilian version of the small but very heavy foam unit. This didn't happen, probably because there were alternative extinguishing agents better suited to a small vehicle, some of them also being developed by the Navy.

Dry Chemical and AFFF

CJ-2A This CJ-2A was converted as a crash truck for the airport at Dafoe, Saskatchewan in 1947. Later used at Yorkton and at St. Andrews Airport near Winnipeg, it was donated in 1990 to the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.

There is a CO2 extinguisher on the driver's side, and an 18-pound dry chemical unit on the right fender. This type of extinguisher had been invented before the war, but was not widely used until the 1950s -- it has a smaller cylinder on the side which holds carbon dioxide to pressurize the main cannister of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) when the seal is punctured. (7)

CJ-2A The passenger seat was removed to make room for a large CO2 cylinder to pressurize the rear tank, which holds probably 300 pounds of sodium bicarbonate powder, delivered through a rubber hose.

Photo by AdolfGalland on Flickr, under CC.

Also well worth seeing at the Royal Aviation Museum in Winnipeg is the cavernous Bristol 170 Freighter behind the Jeep (180K JPEG, photo by Cesamos for tripadvisor.ca.) Built in the UK in 1955 for the RCAF, it was later sold to Wardair and then Norcanair to carry freight in northern Canada, and was donated to the museum in 1983.

Springfield, Missouri

Springfield MO Another 1947 CJ-2A has been restored and displayed at the airport in Springfield MO. According to the plaque mounted on the front (110K JPEG) the Jeep was originally configured with a 100-gallon tank of premixed foam, delivered by a front-mounted pump. The pump has since been replaced by a Federal siren, and a pressure tank in the rear is pre-connected to 2-1/2-inch hose.

Springfield MO I don't know the specs of the system, or whether the hose as installed in the restoration is correct. It could be a pressurized foam system dating from the 1950s-1970s. Thanks to Ted Hutchens for these photos.

Ansul Chemical

Islip MacArthur Airport, Long Island NY This 1953 CJ-3B, which served Islip MacArthur Airport on Long Island NY from the 1950s to the early 1970's, is an example of the popular J2-340 conversion by Ansul Chemical of Marinette, Wisconsin. It was Ansul who popularized dry chemical extinguishers, and the J2-340 carried a 300-pound sodium bicarbonate tank as well as a battery of smaller units.

Greensboro NC, 1962 The crash of a USAF C-47 (military DC-3) at Greensboro NC on 4 February 1962, killing all seven personnel on board, revealed the limitations of the Ansul J2-340 in dealing with a burning multi-engine aircraft. The Jeep was on the scene quickly, but its tank was exhausted before the fire could be knocked down.

For details on this incident, and lots more photos and information on what was otherwise the most successful and widely-used crash Jeep, see Ansul Chemical Crash Trucks on CJ3B.info.

Purple K and Light Water

Elko NV Ansul's solution for airports that wanted more capability but weren't ready for a large crash truck, was a trailer with the one-two punch of "Purple K" (potassium bicarbonate) powder and "Light Water" (AFFF or Aqeuous Film Forming Foam) both of which were developed in the 1960s by the U.S. Navy.

Delivered through a 100-foot double hose to twin nozzles, the dry chemical put out the fire and the Light Water film covered it to prevent re-ignition.

Photo courtesy of Dave Wiggins, Elko NV Firefighters Association.

US Navy, 1968 In 1968, Ansul supplied the Navy with smaller Purple K / Light Water systems on skids, to be used on aircraft carriers. This was one of a number of changes to firefighting equipment and protocols, in response to the 1967 USS Forrestal disaster. (8)

"Light Water" was a trademark of 3M Corporation, who worked with the Navy on developing what is now known as AFFF. Using a fog nozzle, it makes maximum use of a small tank of liquid to create a thin layer of film, and both Purple K and AFFF are still widely used for aircraft firefighting.

More Dry Chem Systems

American LaFrance This American LaFrance factory photo courtesy of Joe Raymond shows a Jeep produced by that company in 1954. It may be the one that went to San Francisco International, as seen in the movie Julie (1956).

France Willys MBs (or more likely M201 versions built by Hotchkiss in France) were equipped by the Gendarmerie (France's federal police) with spherical dry chemical powder tanks in the 1970's, for use at helicopter bases. The modifications were reportedly in service into the early 1990's. See also a front view (90K JPEG).

Photos courtesy Laboratoire central de la gendarmerie nationale.

Florida This YJ Wrangler serves as Rescue 1 at the Fantasy of Flight airfield in Polk City, Florida. Fantasy of Flight, owned by Kermit Weeks, is the world's largest private aircraft collection on display. This 2014 photo is by Michel Curi.

See also a front view (130K JPEG) of the YJ providing some non-emergency assistance. Photo courtesy of Kermit Weeks.

Netherlands Maastricht Aachen Airport is in the Dutch province of Limburg, at the southern tip of the Netherlands. The airport's Brandweer ("fire brigade") fielded this CJ-3B in the 1950s, and apparently weren't worried about the empty extinguisher bracket since they were pulling a couple hundred pounds of probably ABC dry chemical (monoammonium phosphate) which was in use in Europe before it was adopted in North America. (1)

Thanks to Gerrit Lagerwerf for his photo, via Jan Hogendoorn.

"Factory" Crash Wagon

Crash wagon Willys advertised a factory-approved CJ-3B Jeep Crash Wagon in many of its special equipment catalogues and brochures in the 1950s, but I have never seen one outside of those publications. This 1958 photo appeared in the booklet Jeeps for Aircraft Ground Support.

According to a page of Specifications (190K JPEG) the Crash Wagon carries 850 cubic feet of foam and 90 pounds of carbon dioxide gas, including a hand extinguisher of each type. A 75-pound CO2 cylinder is mounted across the body just behind the front seats.

W-O FD In the 1955 Willys booklet Jeep Vehicles in Public Service the Crash Wagon is shown with the rear-mounted foam tank pivoted forward, so it's probably empty. This is apparently a tank of sodium bicarbonate solution, with an inner container of a chemical such as aluminum sulphate, which mixes to create expanding foam when the tank is inverted, like the soda-acid hand extinguisher.

This might account for the somewhat optimistic statement in the specs: "The equipment can be operated by inexperienced personnel, and highly trained fire-fighting crews are unnecessary."

Crash Wagon A catalogue of Jeep Specialized Vehicles and Equipment circa 1959 showed a CJ-5 version of the Crash Wagon, with the same equipment. (In this photo the CO2 extinguisher is shown on the passenger side.) The foam tank has a 50 ft. hose, and the CO2 cylinder has a 25 ft. hose.

Crown Firecoach

Crown Coach Corporation in Los Angeles, who built "Firecoach" fire apparatus from 1951 to 1983, came up with a design for a small airfield fire engine for Douglas Aircraft in the early 1950s, and built several on the CJ-3B Jeep platform and later the CJ-5.

Crown Firecoach CJ-3B This photo shows one at Douglas Space Systems Division in Huntington Beach, with Capt. Joe DuErmit at the wheel, standing by as a Saturn IV stage was loaded onto the Super Guppy (70K JPEG) for a flight to Cape Kennedy, circa 1966. It's configured with an Ansul dry chemical cylinder and nitrogen propellant on the front, as well as a water tank and booster reel in back.

Photo from the Crown Firecoach Archives.

1960 CJ-5 This photo from the Jeep corporate archives was taken at the Brandt & Bryant dealership in Los Angeles, circa 1960. Information from the Firecoach Archives indicates it shows a CJ-5 delivered by Crown to Douglas Aircraft in February 1957.

It has the 150-pound Ansul dry chem system on the front, plus a 150-gallon water tank and 150-foot booster reel on the rear. The 350 GPM Viking model BKN PTO pump is under the tank, a location that would work fine on the tarmac, although it might be vulnerable in off-road use.

The guide rollers fore and aft of the booster reel are an unusual touch, as is the big B&M Super Chief siren which appears to be mounted on the fender at a slightly odd angle.

According to Britt Michael at the Firecoach Archives, this Jeep and two additional CJ-5s built for Douglas in 1957-58 (see CJ-5 Fire Service Jeeps) as well as the earlier CJ-3Bs, were originally used at their Palmdale facility, for flight line operations. After Palmdale was closed, some of the Jeeps were moved to the Douglas Space Systems Division in Huntington Beach.

The fact that this photo is in the Jeep archives suggests Willys was perhaps considering marketing something like this as a "factory approved" conversion. It's a unique combination of the Willys "Jeep Fire Engine" and "Jeep Crash Wagon" in one unit.

Jeep Trucks

Howe FC-150 Howe Fire Apparatus of Anderson, Indiana built this unusual Forward Control FC-150 truck with a multi-cylinder CO2 system; the logo on the door suggests it was destined for Lockheed Aircraft. I don't know if it was a one-off, but it is quite different from the many FC-170 pumpers built by Howe.

Danbury CT The Danbury, Connecticut Municipal Airport took a basic FC-150 and equipped it with a dry chemical system and some CO2 extinguishers. It's reportedly being driven here by a Mr. Sadler. Photo courtesy of Bernie Meehan.

As of March 2024 this FC-150 is for sale online in parts -- see the doors (40K JPEG).

Howe FC-150 Ansul also offered configurations of their dry chemical system for the Forward Controls, but they don't seem to have been as popular as the CJ-3B version. Specs for their FC-170 list a 1000-pound tank, with two 100-foot hoses. This '59 FC-170 served the US Air Force at Thule in Greenland and is now on display at Goodfellow AFB in Texas. See Ansul Chemical Crash Trucks for more photos.

See also a front view (90K JPEG). Photos at Chanute AFB in Illinois courtesy of Brent Saba.

Swedish Air Force Probably the largest Jeep crash truck ever built was the Swedish Air Force's Räddningsbil 915 ("Rescue Truck 915".) It was based on the 1961 Willys FC-170H (heavy duty rear springs) and was fitted with an 800 kg (1,760 lb.) dry chemical tank and a 30 kg/second powder cannon. Again, I don't know how many of these trucks were built.

Pressure cylinders were mounted transversely at the rear; see also a left side drawing (170K JPEG). The truck was painted red. Thanks to Leif Hellström for the images.

Australia Presha Engineering's FC-170 Airfield Light Rescue Tender, built in Australia, carried a much smaller 80 kg (175 lb.) tank, but also a generator to power two 12-inch rescue saws and two floodlights. The unit was sold in Asia and Australia. For more photos and details, see Willys Fire Trucks in Australia on CJ3B.info.

Australia Willys Australia also sold the government an "all-purpose fire/ambulance vehicle," which was not equipped in any way as a piece of fire apparatus, for use at a number of airports. Willys stated the truck, based on the Willys Ambulance, would carry four stretcher cases, or eight fire crew as passengers, and that, "In service they will be equipped with hoses and other firefighting gear and emergency first aid packs."

Photo of the fleet at Hobart Airport in Tasmania, courtesy of Mick Goodrick.

Amsterdam A 1952 Willys 473HT conversion by Kronenburg in the Netherlands, on the other hand, was thoroughly equipped as a fire truck. Delivered to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, it had a large Kronenburg pump on the front, a ladder rack, and plenty of gear stowage, but I don't know if the interior included a tank. It was reportedly in service until 1971.

Photo courtesy of booandarrow on Flickr.

Amsterdam In service it apparently pulled a trailer that may have been a dry chemical unit. Here its crew watches as one of Schiphol's big crash tenders (130K JPEG) lays down foam on a training fire.

Coventry, UK Aside from the Navy's experiments in the early 1950s, this J20 pickup may be the only Jeep to run a large foam gun. It clearly has a substantial tank in the back, but I don't have any details on the installation. The photo was taken at Coventry Airport in the UK circa 1997, and is courtesy of NTG842 on Flickr.

Retford, UK Also in the UK is Retford Gamston Airport, a small facility in Nottinghamshire originally built as an RAF aerodrome during WWII. Their J20 Rescue 1 appears to have two tanks in the back, possibly dry chem and/or AFFF. Photo from 1997 courtesy of NTG842 on Flickr

Note: the U.S. Air Force also mounted some Ansul skid units in J20 trucks. And the U.S. Marine Corps had a similar dry chemical rig mounted on an M151 MUTT -- see Fire Jeeps in Vietnam.

USAF Class 530B The USAF generally preferred large fire trucks to Jeeps, but there is a Jeep connection to the Class 530B fire engine seen in this 1991 USAF photo. Several manufacturers including Kaiser Jeep and later AM General built the M44-chassis 6x6 trucks that were used in many roles by the US military for decades.

USAF Class 530B The 530 Class, a pumper for structural fires with a front-mounted pump, was produced starting in the 50s. The 530B had the PTO pump moved amidships, and the DRW version seen above dates from the 1960s. (9)

In the Vietnam era, the similar Class 530C had a foam deck gun added, making it suitable for airfield crash rescue duty, and it was used by the Army but apparently not the Air Force. Thanks to Jeff Ciccone and ArmyFireTrucks.com for this photo of his 530C.

Additions or corrections to the information here are welcome. Thanks to Britt Michael, Jan Hogendoorn, Mike Legeros, Federico Cavedo, Leif Hellström, Ted Hutchens and all the photographers for their contributions. -- Derek Redmond

See also Jeeps for Aircraft Ground Support on CJ3B.info.


  1. Fire extinguisher: History at Wikipedia.
  2. United States Air Force Plant 42 at Wikipedia.
  3. Battle of Palmdale at Wikipedia.
  4. Lockheed F-104 Starfighter at Wikipedia.
  5. Photo by Cyril Morris, in LIFE magazine, 24 November 1958.
  6. Firefighting foam at Wikipedia.
  7. Portable Fire-Fighting Equipment at GlobalSecurity.org.
  8. Navy Motorizes Fire Fighting With Carrier Deck Minitrucks at Fire Engineering.
  9. Military Vehicle Spotlight: 530B Pumper by Mike Eppinger, at MilitaryTrader.com.

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Last updated 28 March 2024 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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