Did you get the chance to see Kiri, the most adorable, cartoonish little Japanese fire truck that lives in Bernal Heights most of the time? Well, you should know that this pandemic year in the city is not an official San Francisco Fire Department vehicle. But it’s a working fire truck and terribly charming.
Kiri has an Instagram that has nearly 1,960 followers as of this writing and is owned by longtime SF resident and former Bernalwood blogger Todd Lappin. Lappin answered a few questions this week for Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub about how he got around to buying this 1990 131-inch Daihatsu fire truck in a tiny mountain town near Nagano.
“I imported Kiri directly from Japan with a local importer that I met,” Lappin told the newspaper. “Essentially, it was withdrawn from the city, went through the auction system. It was sold for next to nothing, because who wants a 30 year old little fire truck?”
He adds, “It’s one of those things that seems really intimidating until you do it. If someone thinks about it, I’d say do it.”
Lappin had previously had some experience importing a Japanese car, and after learning about the pros and cons of the process, decided on a whim to seek something cooler and more unique for San Francisco. Enter Kiri, who served a volunteer fire department in Kirigamine, Japan for about 30 years and joined SF about five months after the pandemic started. The truck is designed for navigation in hills and narrow streets and never had its own water tank. He has a pump that relies on suction. So all you have to do is park it next to a pond and throw a hose in and you’re good to fight a fire.
According to Lappin, the name of the city it came from happens to have a parallel with San Francisco.
“This is really cute here – ‘kiri’ means fog and ‘gamine’ means top of the mountain,” says Lappin. “The city is literally called ‘misty peaks’ in Japanese, which is amazing.”
Lappin notes that the streets and slopes around Bernal are very similar to a Japanese mountain town and that Kiri was home. It’s not really intended for highway driving and barely goes over 60 mph, but he says he drove it to Sonoma a couple of times too, and it could always be used to fight a devastating fire there – from that it will certainly be more.
He’s also taken it with him on family outings, he says, and his kids get a kick out of all the attention they get on the street.
And he adds that the PA system on Kiri is pretty intense.
“I’ve used it a couple of times,” says Lappin. “After the poll was scheduled, I just drove around town and played ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ really loud … That was really great. I played some classic Christmas carols around Christmas. Tony Bennett and Dean Martin pumped out of the matter. “
And since Kiri made her Instagram debut, some folks in Kirigamine have gotten wind that their little fire truck lives in San Francisco, and Lappin says, “They love it. … It helped build a bridge between those two places in this one fun to forge by the way because people can see this decontextualized thing is having silly adventures in a place it’s not supposed to be. “
Photo via teenytinyfiretruck / Instagram