Because Firetruck: Norbert

Today we will be talking with Andrew, owner of @norbert_the_firetruck and all-round great guy. We're excited to feature more content like this on our website and are really grateful for Andrew and Norbert to take the time time to talk and shoot with us!

Have a cool or quirky build or adventure business? Drop us an email at and lets set up a time/place!

Q -
Okay first off, where did Norbert get his name?
A - It’s a little bit nerdy, very few people have made the connection without context, but it’s the name of Hagrid’s dragon in Harry Potter. Coming from the Pacific Rim we decided a dragon’s name would be appropriate for the truck.

Q - What is Norbert? Power train? 4x4?
A - Norbert is a 1992 Toyota HIACE Truck retired from the Japanese Fire Brigade. It has a 4 cylinder Diesel engine with a 4X4 transfer case.

Q - Why a JDM fire truck?
A - Because… fire truck! Kidding aside we had a couple friends import a ex-ambulance HIACE and looked up the company they used, saw an example of one of these trucks and fell in love with the idea of owning one as our adventure-mobile/my daily. In terms of practicality, we could not have gotten anything stateside that checked all the same boxes. For one, a small diesel engine that I could learn to work on. We also wanted a double cab truck so our dogs had their own place in the backseat, but US trucks are pretty big and I liked the idea of a small truck that could fit down the narrowest and tightest of trails. The wheelbase is more similar to a Jeep than any US pickup. Don’t let it’s small size fool you though, it’s 5.12 gearing, 6ft bed, and 1.25 TON rating mean it can handle some serious work… you know, like fire service. Oh, and a little over 7,000 original miles when we took the keys, meticulously maintained by the fire service. “Brand new” 25 year old truck. Also, we would have paid twice as much for anything here that couldn’t even cross all the same things off the list.

Q - What was your car history before this rig?
A - 2002 Pontiac Aztek
I know it has always gotten a bad rep for it’s “unique” styling, but the thing was way way ahead of it’s time! I still miss the fighter pilot HUD projected on the windshield. And yes, I definitely did have the tent that fit the back.
1998 Audi A4 B5 V6
Lowered on coilovers it was my first car and I still miss that euro tuner… might get another someday. I always wanted to do an electric conversion on it, so I’d like to revisit that.

Q - Any cool history about this specific fire truck?
A - We don’t know a ton, but it’s last posting was the Sasayama Fire Brigade in Sasayama, Japan. The lettering on the side of the truck reads “Sasayama Fire Brigade”. Small mountain city. We hope to visit there someday now.

Q - How was the importing process? Any tips for people who’d want to do something similar?
A - It was actually very easy, well, except for the waiting! We had to wait about 7 months once we decided to get the truck. It felt like years! We worked with a dealer/importer/repair shop in Portland, @VanlifeNorthwest. They made it so simple. All we had to do was show up with the cash once it had been shipped over, and looked over/tuned up by their team. They do a full overhaul prior to sale, so things are all checked over and good to roll day 01. Two things that can be hiccups though, it’s harder to find any financing for import vehicles, and insurance can be more difficult. Search the web for VW bus insurance and it’s a pretty similar story there. We are looking into RV registration and insurance once we are able to build things out to meet the DOT guidelines.

Q - Are there any other JDM fire trucks in the USA to your best knowledge? IF so , care to shout them out on social media?
A - Ours is one of the three just in Bend believe it or not! To the best of my knowledge there are a dozen more or so around the states now, a few in Canada too I believe. One up in the Portland area that just started receiving it’s “overland makeover” is @the_redbrick. Really jealous of his new front bumper! Another one I follow is @dynamighttoyota who’s got an awesome Dyna (the work truck badge from Toyota), also ex fire truck, but a few years newer.

Q - Any unique fire truck features you kept? Any you found annoying?
A - The Fire Brigade emblem badge on the font of the truck! And the awesome trim decals and fire truck numbers. Not all of them make it thorough import with that stuff still intact, so we were super stoked to learn we got to keep ours. The only annoying thing might be the time it took to unbolt/cut off various mounts on the truck bed for fire equipment. But flip side, tons of cool mounting hardware!

Q - Does it have working emergency lights?
A - It did. We desperately wanted to keep the emergency light bar and PA system installed, but had concerns over the legality and how much of hassle it might cause. So I did remove those components for now, but we still have them, and will be putting them back on in a way that complies with DOT guidelines. Very soon hopefully!

Q - What was one of the most unexpected quirks?
A - EAI knob. Engine Air Intake, it reroutes the air intake to pull from inside the cab of the truck for water crossing. It’s the snorkel switch!

Q - What's coming next for Norbert? Future mods?
A - Too many…. We will be building a much more durable and weather sealed camper box on back for adventures, with a built in flip tent top. Think Flip-Pac. Possibly a coil-over conversion on the front torsion suspension. No bolt on parts here though, unfortunately. Replace front seats. Front bumper with rated recovery points. Cab roof rack/semi-exo cage. Minor trail armor. Hidden winch front & rear.  Awnings. Surround view camera system. Large solar power system. House battery system. Aux diesel tank, increasing range to more like 1,000 miles. Comms. It’s a looooooong spreadsheet! 

Q - Any funny stories?
A - We once had a very angry driver shouting at us from inside his car for being on the phone while driving! He was yelling at Mary. She was sitting in the passenger seat. It’s right hand drive.