The smoke is billowing, flames crackling and alarms sounding, but the only water the fire fighters are seeking out is in their Nalgene bottles—and the only rush they’re in is to grab some plates, napkins, and forks.
That’s because the flames are perfectly cooking a pizza for the workers, the smoke smells like good food, and the meal is being made in a familiar ride: a shiny, bright red fire engine.
For about the past year, 10 Alarm Fire Engine Pizza has been serving up pies in the Akron, Ohio area that are cooked on a wood-burning stove installed directly inside an old fire engine—and the wheeled restaurant’s popularity is spreading like wildfire.
“Dinner time is family time for Italians,” said restaurant owner Jon Grande, himself an Italian-American. “You get to sit down, break bread, meet and greet and talk. When you put it all together with a gigantic fire truck, and it becomes a pizza truck instead, it’s that whole thought process on steroids.”
But customizing the huge machine—not to mention finding a used fire truck available for the task—was itself a herculean effort, Grande said.
Citizens can typically purchase decommissioned fire trucks from local governments or even on eBay, but a bigger problem is transporting the vehicles after buying them, he said. A specialized license is usually required—not to mention a huge driveway to park them in.
Grande’s 10 Alarm Fire Engine came from his local firehouse. The business owner said he was inspired to buy it by a friend who suggested he try something new.
“I got it dirt cheap from the fire house because they didn’t use it anymore,” Grande said. “Then I thought, ‘So what do you do with an old fire truck? Put it in a parade? Or do something cool with it!’”
“Cool” may not be the best word to describe what the truck does now, though. The wood-burning stove can reach upwards of 800 degrees, cooking a pie in two minutes flat, Grande said, and utilizing the convection heat created to bake the dough, giving his pies the perfect crunchy crust.
The Re-Fit: How a Fire Engine went from Pyres to Pies
In order to fit the brick-lined oven into the vehicle, Grande said a 3,700-pound water pump needed to be removed from the truck. But, in order to remove the pump, an entire 5-foot section of the truck had to be completely dismantled.
A fire truck pump is connected directly to the vehicle’s axle, Grande explained, and when a fire engine is parked, the drive shaft is actually disengaged in order to utilize the high pressure pump to shoot water at the flames.
“It’s an act of God to get it out of there,” Grande said, laughing. “Anybody who’s going to try this, really: good luck.”
The effort did have one very big payoff, however: It brought the vehicle under the weight of a designated commercial vehicle, a legal definition that comes with its own varying and complicated set of regulations.
Typically, a vehicle is considered commercial when it tips the scales at 25,000 pounds or more. Grande was lucky that the wood-burning oven he had installed then only weighed 3,000 pounds—keeping the vehicle just under weight, he said.
With that modification alone, Grande could save the time, money, and hassle of getting a commercial driver’s license, as an undesignated vehicle can be legally driven with the same type of license that will allow you to operate an RV, he said.
For its part, the oven was ordered from and built in the Italian city of Fiorina, made with bricks 12 inches thick. An automatic canopy was also added to the vehicle, allowing food preppers some shade to concoct the perfect pie under—and a bit of reprieve from the heat behind them.
Still, the heat of the kitchen was always something Grande could stand. It’s in the genes, he said.
“My family has been in the restaurant industry for 75 years,” Grande said. “Italian food, Italian cooking—it’s inspiration. It’s like you’re in Italy again. It brings back my need to please people, my need to feed them, to bring everyone together.”
But there’s a particular group of people Grande said he’s especially pleased to feed his pizza to: the firefighters themselves.
“It brings in the spirit of giving back, but by doing something different,” he said. “It’s a piece of equipment you use to save lives. I’m helping to those people who help others. It’s kind of a full circle thing.”