Tiny kei class fire engines are landing in the States, bringing smiles to everyone around. One little fire engine in San Francisco is different than the rest. Not only does it make everyone smile, but it’s been restored to so it can tackle small fires, too!
The San Francisco Chronicle told the story of Kiri, the tiny kei class Daihatsu HiJet fire engine putting smiles on the faces of San Francisco Bay Area residents. The little truck spreads its joy worldwide through its Instagram, too. But Kiri is different than most of the Japanese fire engines in America as it’s been fully restored to firefighting condition. Yep, that means that this little truck is more than just for show.
Scrolling through Kiri’s Instagram is an absolute delight and as someone addicted to the process of importing vehicles from Japan, I had to know more. I reached out to Kiri’s owner, Todd Lappin, to find more about this awesome little truck. Lappin’s love for the fire engine is not unlike the love we have for our own favorite cars. Kiri isn’t so much a vehicle as it is a member of the family.
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Kiri is a 1990 Daihatsu HiJet from the small mountain town of Kirigamine in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan. It was built for firefighting by Tohatsu, a company known for its small fire trucks and boats. Kirigamine is a resort area with hotels and a ski area. Kiri’s home was a volunteer fire department and, given the area, it’s not surprising that it didn’t see much action. Kiri gets its name from the town it spent most of its life.
The fire engine was purchased through an auction for cheap. Lappin worked with an importer, Vans From Japan, to bring Kiri over. There’s not much interest in a 30-year-old fire engine in Japan, so these are ripe for the picking for importation. Lappin has prior experience with car importation through a Nissan Skyline imported some years ago. He blames our own Jason Torchinsky for his quest to bring Kiri over.
Kiri landed in the U.S. in 2020 with only 4,000 miles on its odometer and Lappin found the truck to be absolutely perfect. He hasn’t needed to do anything to it. But there was one problem: The firefighting equipment didn’t come with the truck.
Fire engines are usually stripped of their parts before being exported. Kiri, like so many other Japanese fire engines, arrived without firefighting equipment, but Lappin made it a mission to restore Kiri to original condition. He scoured Yahoo Japan auctions and other Japanese fire engine owners for parts. He says the hardest part to find was the truck’s pump, as the parts are rare and heavy, making them expensive to ship.
But as luck would have it, Vans From Japan was importing a larger HiAce fire engine for an overland build and it still had its pump. Since that pump was no longer needed, it became Kiri’s, and the little truck became whole again.
These trucks work a bit differently than the fire engines Americans are used to. Instead of having onboard tanks or hooking up to fire hydrants, trucks like Kiri dip into whatever water sources that they can tap into. This means ponds, rice paddies, fountains anything that the pump can suck water from.
How does Kiri drive? Like most kei trucks, it’s pretty slow. Top speed is right around 60 mph, but it handles San Francisco like a boss. The low end torque means that the little truck feels the most alive at slow city speeds.
The truck even has a loud PA system that Lappin has used to broadcast everything from holiday music to warnings about Godzilla sightings. It’s no surprise that the adorable thing puts a smile on faces everywhere it goes. Kiri even gets to party with other imported cars.
The truck’s adventures spread joy to San Francisco residents through these trying times, but the truck’s reach is worldwide. Kiri’s home of Kirigamine even follows the truck as it explores the world around it.
Follow Kiri on its Instagram page for some heartwarming kei truck action.