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Firehouse Funnies
by Will Wyatt

Fire trucks: Buy later, pay now

Small-town thrift can have big-time fire consequences

By Will Wyatt

Over the last year or so I have reported on the misguided money-saving governmental activities in large metropolitan areas. If there's an award to be given, right now the city manager of Kansas City and the mayor of St. Louis are in the lead — but there could be a late entry.

But, let's examine the political strife in small towns. Yes, it exists there, too.

There is something alluring about small-town life. It has been immortalized in paintings, TV shows, movies and literature; of course, my favorite representation was "Green Acres." They are the kind of places where the sheriff doesn't even carry a gun let alone a taser.

Let's look at what three communities have had to endure to get a new fire truck. Our first stop takes us to East Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, N. J. It is just a stone's throw from where I grew up. 

Back in my day, East Greenwich had two volunteer departments. One was East Greenwich No. 1, and the other being the Mount Royal Fire Company. Mount Royal had a giant fire hall with only one bay door. As a kid I always wondered how they got the fire trucks out.

That fire department wanted to purchase a new fire truck to replace three older trucks. Sounds like a good business deal to me.

However, the council meeting got out of hand and had to be recessed with the police almost having to restore order. The problem being the fire truck issue was going to be placed on a bond-initiative to refurbish the Little League fields.

I have a suggestion
Since the residents expect, no demand, these volunteers get up at 2 a.m. when they have to work the next morning, push away from the Thanksgiving meal, or leave the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl to handle emergencies in town, why doesn't the public volunteer to help with the ball fields? If we got 50 or so residents together with rakes, shovels and a couple of wheelbarrows, a lot of money could be saved.

In an ultimate show of putting my money where my mouth is, I will come help with the ball field volunteer weekend.

I have experience at this. We have two accomplished Little Leaguers. I got assigned to the parent ground crew as the home plate area raking person. I once briefly got promoted to pitching mound tamper guy. They don't let just anybody tamp the mound let me tell you.

Fortunately, after much political posturing and gavel banging, the issue in this community has been resolved and a new truck order approved.

$5.00 a Galion
Southwest of New Jersey in the community of Galion, Ohio a similar struggle ensued. The local fire people wanted to replace a 1989 pumper.

The truck has a chronic air leak and the department has problems finding parts. According to the chief, it takes up to two minutes for the truck to build up enough air pressure to be driven.

I am not sure this a bad thing. We are in a stressful job. We all need to slow down. Start the truck and let it begin airing up.

We now have two minutes for everybody to go to the bathroom, comb their hair and get a drink of water. Hydration, especially in the summer, is important. What's the hurry? That extra two minutes will make the fire a lot easier to see.

One of the council people made a statement that she thought we were here to discuss important issues like electrical rates. A comment I keep seeing in these small town feuds is, "Now is just not a good time to buy a fire truck." She went on to say the issue could be revisited in a year or two.

Is there a good time to buy a fire truck? Are they cheaper right after Christmas? That appendectomy might not be on sale, but sometimes you need one.

For those of you in the minority who don't think I am nuts, I am about to loose you. I don't think all politicians, especially in small-town America, are evil.

Of course some are, but the majority are ordinary citizens who, without pay, are trying to look out for the community's best interests. They just put the screws to the fire department because of the age-old problem we have: they have no idea what we do.

Thankfully, we have another happy ending. The council has come together to authorize the purchase of the new pumper. Way to go Galion.

Set the way-back machine to 1977
It's not just in our country. North of the border in friendly Canada it goes on, too.

The frivolous, spend happy firemen in Revelstoke, British Columbia had the nerve to ask the city to replace a 34-year-old aerial apparatus. This truck hit the street in 1977. I think that makes it 35 but in the local paper they list it as 34.

Now I am a truck guy at heart and I will tell you up front I am not crazy about being 85 feet in the air on a 34-year-old aerial device. I don't care how many annual service tests it passes.

The truck looks good on the Website. Which is a true testament to the dedication and professionalism of the Revelstoke fire department's maintenance guys.

If there is an award for apparatus maintenance and care, Revelstoke has my vote. They obviously don't take their old '77 ice fishing and forget which snow drift they parked in and return in the spring thaw to find it.

If we could put a flux capacitor on this truck and get it up to 88 mph, we could go back to 1977 and find Jimmy Carter as president — or Pierre Elliott Trudeau as Canada's P.M. A first-class stamp was 13 cents; gasoline was 62 cents a gallon, the big movies at that time was some science-fiction movie entitled "Star Wars" along with "Saturday Night Fever" and one of my personal favorites "Smokey and the Bandit."

I can almost hear Don Cherry on "Hockey Night in Canada" yelling, "Come on! Give the boys in Revelstoke a new fire engine!" 

The town council voted to purchase the new truck. But then there was a period in which the nay-sayers could get up a petition to force another vote.

To be honest, I am not sure how this ended. I do know if the Revelstokians get a new aerial they will be amazed at the technology in fire apparatus since the latter half of the previous century.

Two councilors, as they are referred to there, are vehemently against the purchase. I wonder how many of the city government people in Revelstoke drive 34-year-old cars.

They would be easy to see. They would be the folks tooling around town in the AMC Pacers or the Ford Pintos.

A world without fire
Using my advanced and futuristic computer skills, I have copied and pasted the comments of one councilor so there will be no interpretation issues. This from the Revelstoke Times Review.

Following the meeting, Coun. Johnston said he wasn't convinced by the chief's business plan. "I am not convinced that this is a good expenditure of our tax dollars," he wrote in response to a question from the Times Review. "I am concerned about the safety of the firefighters and the public but from the chief's comments I felt assured that there was not a risk to either from the existing equipment." He added he preferred encouraging building owners to conduct more fire prevention and fireproofing.

There you have it. Just ask people not to have fires. Why didn't we ever think of that?

We also could have the town's people click their heels together three times and repeat the phrase, “There's no place at home for a fire.” 

Well, after the fire proofing and the townsfolk in Revelstoke go to bed in their concrete houses, and turn back their asbestos sheets on their cast-iron matresses, they can rest easy knowing at least they won't have to buy any more silly fire trucks.

Chiefly visitations
Earlier this year three firefighters in Prince Georges County, Md., got burned in a house fire. Thankfully, all three survived and are recovering.

However, every time I saw a photo from the hospital, I saw Fire Chief Mark Bashoor in the photo. I like that. The fire chief of a large fire department takes time to go to the hospital to check on his people.

I have been sent to the hospital three times (admittedly not as seriously as these brave young men) and have never had a fire chief come and check on me. A couple of them have called and asked the hospital to keep me as long as possible.

I never did figure that out.
 

About the author

Will Wyatt, who is originally from New Orleans, has been in the fire service for 25 years. Will currently works as an engineer/operator at the Village Fire Department in the Houston, Texas, area. Will also works part time at another fire department and part time at a 911 emergency medical service. He has held numerous ranks with fire departments in the Houston area including full time training officer, fire marshal and deputy chief. Will holds a master fire fighter certification with the State of Texas, an instructor certification, pump operator certification, an associate degree from Houston Community College and a basic EMT certification. Recently will authored a book on the fire service entitled, "And a Paycheck, Too!" Check out an excerpt here. Contact Will at Will.Wyatt@firerescue1.com.


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