July 20, 2013

Bangor parade death raises questions

A fatality caused by a 1930 fire truck on July Fourth sparks a debate over Maine's lack of mandated inspections for antique vehicles.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When a 1930 fire truck in Bangor's Fourth of July parade caused an accident that fatally crushed a Holden man, suspicion immediately focused on the antique truck's brakes and raised questions about its maintenance.

click image to enlarge

Ed Marks, president of the Portland Veteran Firemen’s Association, is shown with a 1938 McCann pumper at the Portland Fire Museum. The truck is no longer driven because its exhaust can cause damage.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Colter Olson, 7, of Yarmouth talks with Bob Theriault of Cumberland Center before the start of the Yarmouth Clam Festival Parade on Friday in Yarmouth. Of the 1.26 million vehicles registered in Maine, 19,000 are registered as antiques, meaning they are at least 25 years old.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

The incident also cast light on a state law that exempts antique vehicles from annual safety inspections.

Cars and trucks that are registered as antique vehicles, which in Maine means those older than 25 years, must meet basic safety criteria regarding their brakes, tires, windshield glass and mufflers, according to the state police inspections division.

But compliance with those safety requirements isn't mandated. Maine is one of a minority of states that does not require annual inspections to make sure the vehicles meet those standards.

Antique vehicles, whether they are historic pieces of fire apparatus or classic hot rods, can be hard to find parts for, but they are not inherently difficult to maintain or dangerous, said Tim Stentiford. owner of Motorland Vintage America in Biddeford.

"Even with a 1930s fire truck, assuming it's well cared for, it shouldn't be any more risky than any other vehicle, but it needs that proper maintenance and attention and by somebody who understands that technology, to keep it running safely and properly," Stentiford said.

Stentiford said classic car enthusiasts debate whether antique vehicles should be required to get annual inspections, since many of them are driven only on the weekends or are transported on trailers to car shows.

"Maine is in the minority that do not require annual inspections for antique automobiles or classic vehicles. Opponents say it's not practical to have a single set of codified standards," he said. "It's almost impossible to take over 100 years across literally thousands of models and manufacturers and come up with a consistent standard."

Of the 1.26 million vehicles registered in Maine, 19,000 are registered as antiques, meaning they are at least 25 years old, substantially in their original condition and not used as an owner's primary vehicle, said Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.

The state does not track how many crashes antiques cars have been involved in over the years. Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said he believes it to be a very small number, given how few of them there are.

Safety standards are not the same for cars and trucks of different eras, said Lt. Brian Scott, head of the state police inspections division.

Vehicles built prior to 1953 do not need to have turn signals, and cars built before 1966 don't need to have seat belts.

"Tires, brakes, headlights, tail lights, window glazing ... a muffler to prevent excessive noise -- those equipment standards are for all vehicles in Maine regardless of how registered," Scott said. "It's like any other law. ... It's up to you to abide by it."

Technically, the 1930 McCann pumper owned by the city of Bangor would not have had to meet even the basic safety standards, which apply to vehicles driven on a public way. For the period of a parade, the parade route is not considered a public way, said Scott.

"If a road is closed for a parade ... vehicles wouldn't need to be registered," said Scott. "That's why you can have monster trucks and Shriners' go-carts at parades."

Members of the inspection division were assigned Friday to help Bangor police examine the fire truck, which failed to stop at the intersection of Water and Main streets. The truck hit an antique tractor being driven by Wallace L. Fenlason, 63, of Holden, causing the tractor to tip over. The truck then ran over Fenlason, killing him.

Immediately after the crash, which was witnessed by scores of spectators along the parade route, including children, suspicion focused on a possible brake failure on the city-owned truck, which was used only in parades and other ceremonial functions.

(Continued on page 2)

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