Burned out of their building, Ill. FFs receive gift of 2 fire engines

A Penn. fire department donated a red engine and a blue-and-white rescue truck

Carolyn P. Smith
Belleville News-Democrat

WASHINGTON PARK, Ill. — The Village of Washington Park and its fire department are celebrating a generous donation from another fire department in another state.

In October of last year, a three-alarm fire broke out at the municipal building, destroying the police, public works and fire departments.

No one was injured, but the small St. Clair County village didn't have the resources or insurance to replace lost equipment.

On April Fool's Day, Washington Park Assistant Fire Chief Ronnie Harris says officials learned that the donation of two engines by a Pennsylvania community was no joke.

The Elk Lake Volunteer Fire Company gave Washington Park a red 1987 engine and a blue and white 1989 rescue truck with no strings attached, Harris said.

"We now have a four-truck fleet. ..." Harris said. "We are very grateful to get these trucks. They will make it better for us to protect the citizens of Washington Park. They deserve everything we can do for them to make the village safe for them.

"This really beefs up our armor."

Elk Lake Volunteer Fire Company serves three small communities in rural northeast Pennsylvania where "everybody knows everybody," said Board Director John Finlon.

"We're out in the middle of nowhere. We don't have a town," he said. "Our coverage area is three little communities that consist of maybe 2,500 people to 3,000 at the very most. The biggest thing we have is Elk Lake High School, which is right next to the fire company. We have an elementary and a vo-tech (vocational and technical school).

"It's a pretty tight community. Everybody knows everybody."

The fire company has been in a downsizing mode, he said. The 1987 Pierce pumper had been donated to Elk Lake from a small town in New Jersey about 10 years ago and the '89 rescue truck had no practical use in their rural community.

"Rather than let it sit around and rust up, we were looking for somebody who could use them," Finlon said.

How Elk Lake and Washington Park found each other

Elk Lake originally looked south to a fire department in western Kentucky, where an EF4 tornado had cut a path of devastation across 11 counties and killed 57 people on Dec. 10. They didn't find a match, but the offer found its way into a word-of-mouth network of firefighters.

That's how Elk Lake and Washington Park got connected.

"(The Kentucky fire departments) were looking for tanker pumpers which we didn't have so they referred us to somebody in Georgia. But they didn't want to use them for about another six months," Finlon said. "They told us about Washington Park Fire company and gave them my phone number.

"That's when Doug Orange called me."

After the municipal building burned, Washington Park Fire Department Battalion Chief Douglas Orange turned to social media for help, posting on Facebook about the fire, the loss of equipment and the village's existing two-truck fleet that was showing the wear of heavy use.

The post was spotted by someone with an upstart fire department in Georgia that was trying to rebuild. The fledgling company had neither the finances or manpower to travel to Pennsylvania to pick up the two trucks, so he put Orange in touch with Elk Lake.

"He wanted them to go to somewhere that could use them," Orange said. "He saw my Facebook post and commented. I called him and he put me in contact with the director at Elk Lake Fire Department. "

'Ecstatic' and grateful

Orange and Deputy Chief Greg Stevens called on local businesses to back the cost of travel, lodging and fuel so they could retrieve the trucks from Elk Lake. They came through with $9,000 in donations, Orange said.

"Our battalion chief and two firefighters went to Elk Lake, Pennsylvania and drove then back here with no glitches," Harris said. "They ran very nice. ... (Orange) did what was required in terms of the paperwork we needed to submit. We thank him. He was very instrumental in our getting these trucks.

"The trucks are in very good condition. I am over-excited. When they first brought them back over a week ago, I went to look at them. They are in excellent condition. They look new inside, but they are used. They took very good care of them."

Washington Park Mayor Leonard Moore said he is "ecstatic" about the donations, saying the village "sure can use" the equipment. He said the new trucks should be in service in Washington Park by May 1.

"I am very grateful and thankful to the Elk Lake Fire Department and the mayor there," Moore said. "Without them, none of this would be possible."

For Elk Lake, the fire truck donation was just one way it could pay forward the help its fire department has received over the years, said Finlon.

" Elk Lake fire company was started in 1973 and, from then to now, a lot of people and a lot of companies helped us along the way. If we can help somebody like that, we're just glad to be able to take advantage of the opportunity," he said. "Our fire company is so glad (Washington Park) has them and can put them to good use."

Business backing

In addition to the monetary donations, local businesses have helped the fire department remain operational. Don Davis has housed the village's two fire engines since the municipal building burned down six months ago.

"He has provided the fire department with whatever space they have needed," said Harris. "In fact, whatever they have needed he has been there. He is also a big blessing to the community."

Harris also singled out other businesses for their assistance and donations. They included: BP Gas Station, Activated Night Club, Eddie's Meat Market, Pop's, Scott Rose Family, C'Mo's Night Club, Washington Park Pawn Shop, Larry Flynt's Night Club, Miss Kitty's Night Club.


(c)2022 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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