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Firehouse Funnies
by Will Wyatt

Fire truck buying shenanigans in 3 small towns

Politicians love to feast on the good feelings fire trucks bring, but grow alligator arms when the bill arrives

By Will Wyatt

It's time once again to visit one of my favorite subjects in politics, the purchase of a new fire truck. I always love to report on these epic political misadventures in small towns. It's sort of a slice of Americana you just can't beat.  

Behold the fire truck, an iconic symbol of community pride complete with blinding chrome, black gleaming tires, flashing lights and the like. As the Beatles once sang, "It's a gleam machine."

It is the star attraction in the annual spring little league parade. It's the centerpiece in the Fourth of July celebration. Kids climb on them and people like me slobber over them. Norman Rockwell painted paintings about them. Politicians loved to be photographed with them.

And on occasion they are called on to save lives and property.

However, the brakes get slammed when it's time to buy a new one. "How much? That's a lot of money! We will have to have a bond election."

Suddenly, they aren't such a big deal anymore.

The great divide
A disturbing trend I have noticed this time around is division along political party lines. That's troubling to say the least.

I used to tell the kids in school a fire doesn't care what color you are, where you live or if it is a holiday. And I am pretty sure a fire doesn't care about the left or the right.

Partisan politics is nothing new around these parts. Even back in colonial America we had the Tories and the Whigs arguing over supporting the British. It would be nice if we could come together for the safety of the firefighters and public.

Our first stop takes us to Carney's Point, N.J., just a stone's throw from my old stomping ground. The township committee had adopted the new $9.3 million budget without any money for a new fire truck. The one Republican on the five-person committee made a motion to include a new fire truck in the budget; not a single Democrat would second the motion.

It seems the committee moved some money in last year's budget that was in place for a new fire truck to plug some holes in the budget after the trash fee was rescinded. How about that?

I wonder what the holes were. I am sure they were as important as a new fire truck. This is an old governmental trick known as robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rich Gatanis has allayed all fears by saying he personally checked on the fire truck to be replaced and it works fine. The mayor, an obvious mechanic with emergency vehicle technician training, is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get greasy.

Before there was the Internet
Meanwhile, up the road in Dublin, N.H., controversy developed over replacing the fire department's 25-year-old tanker. The fire chief explained that the town has no municipal water supply and the tanker brings water to the fire.

I am way out on a limb here, but I would think a tanker might be an important piece of apparatus in a town that doesn't have a hydrant system. I am just saying.

This truck would have gone in service the same year Lucille Ball passed away and "Driving Miss Daisy" garnered an Academy Award — and one year before the Internet went live.

Do you remember the scene from the WWII John Wayne classic "The Longest Day" where the Americans parachute into the French Village? A building is on fire and the entire town formed a bucket brigade to combat it.

On a happy note, it seems the residents of Dublin vote on the municipal budget. They approved the budget, with the new fire truck and a wage increase for city workers, 118 to 22. Bravo!

By any other name
Late last year in the town of New Bern, N.C., trouble arose over the purchase of a new ladder truck. It began with the swearing in of some new aldermen, one of whom, Dana Outlaw, was set to become the new mayor.

Alderman Outlaw suggested the new ladder truck, which had been approved and budgeted for, be tabled until the new aldermen were sworn in.

Aldermen Bettis and Bengel accused Outlaw of playing politically motivate games. The fire chief brought forth the information and the best truck was to be purchased. Bettis went on to say it was despicable to use insurance rates and public safety for political means. I like this guy.

Then in a horrible turn of events that can only be described as horrendous, things really got bad. It was revealed that Outlaw sent an email to the city attorney asking that the previous mayor's name be kept off the new fire truck.

It would seem New Bern has a tradition dating back to 1879 of putting the mayor's names on new fire trucks. Whoa! We are playing political hardball here.

This is intense. I mean you wait your whole life to get your name on a fire truck then bang somebody tries to torpedo you. However, the coup failed and after a vote to table the purchase failed; the new ladder truck was ordered.

I like it. It is nice to see there are still good folks in government who stand up for us. Let me hear from you. 

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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