Ill. FD repurposes 30-year-old fire engine for firefighter safety
The LeRoy Fire Department had tried to sell the engine for a year but realized it held more value as a blocker on the interstate
By Drew Zimmerman
LeROY, Ill. — Last fall, the LeRoy Fire Department responded to a call on Interstate 74 not long after a tornado was reported on the southwest part of town.
First responders discovered that two semi-trucks had rolled over on opposite sides of the interstate. But as they tended to the situation in the midst of heavy thunderstorms, firefighters were exposed to plenty of vehicles that refused to yield, Assistant Fire Chief Ed Underhill said.
After that call, and with the loss of Bloomington firefighter Chris Brown in a 2013 crash still weighing on Central Illinois stations, Underhill said something had to change.
Crew members of LeRoy’s volunteer department worked together to repurpose a 1993 engine into what they describe as a buffer truck that would alert motorists of an oncoming emergency scene.
“Running into a truck is better than running into a fireman,” Underhill said. “You can replace a truck but you can’t replace a fireman.”
After obtaining a new engine in December 2021, Underhill said the department tried to sell its 30-year-old engine for more than a year.
At the most, Underhill said, the department would have gotten $10,000 for the truck. But once it was repurposed to address firefighter safety, he said the engine would hold a lot more value to the department.
In February, the department’s board of trustees approved the project.
Working with a budget of $5,000 to $6,000, firefighters changed the strobes and siren bulbs, added reflective tape strips the back of the truck, bought three emergency road signs and 50 cones and added an arrow board asking motorists to change lanes.
No outside help was used for the modifications, Underhill said.
After six months of work, the truck became ready for deployment on Tuesday and will be located roughly a quarter of a mile away from emergency scenes. Underhill said the truck also will be available for mutual aid requests, which can be from any department in McLean County.
“On a weekend or evening, if you want IDOT to come block (traffic), it takes a couple hours for them to get their trucks and everything out, whereas we can get set up pretty quick,” Underhill said.
He added that most mutual aid requests LeRoy responds to are from Farmer City and Downs since they both are along the interstate.
Although the truck has been repurposed, Underhill said it still has a 1,000- gallon tank, which means it is insured to serve as a pumper truck or water tender at structure fires.