Finally, a fire engine for all seasons

June 02, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

It took nearly 50 years, but the West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department can finally come in from the cold -- and the heat.

After a decade of raising money, the department is now the proud owner of E-31, a new heated and air-conditioned fire engine that cost $265,000 -- all of that from donations.

"It rides like a Cadillac," said Debbie Saunders, acting Emergency Medical Services lieutenant. "I guess it has good shocks."

"So far, we're extremely pleased with it," said Chief Gary W. Unverzagt. "It's one of the few pieces of equipment we've had really good luck with so far."

Of course, many area motorists knew about the engine's impending arrival, thanks to a signboard in front of the fire house on Route 144.

But delivery of the vehicle was held up for several months, so it did not see its first service until late April, Chief Unverzagt said.

The vehicle's chassis and frame were built by Pemfab Trucks of Rancocas, N.J., and its firefighting hardware was made by Ranger Fire Apparatus Co. Inc. of Esmond, R.I.

The mobile base of Engine Co. 31 is also a bit more hospitable than its 1982 vintage predecessor, said Ms. Saunders, who divides her time between riding in the department's medic unit and the new vehicle.

"The older one didn't have an enclosed cab," she said. Sitting in one of four contoured seats just behind the driver's seat, she pointed at the roof. "This would be all open, so you were exposed to the snow, the wind and other weather."

"This will be nice in the winter," she said.

The chief said the air-conditioned truck will also be a boon to overheated firefighters during the summer months.

"For hot weather, when the guys come out of a working fire, it gives them a place to sort of rehab themselves."

Even without the fire, notes Ms. Saunders, "it gets pretty hot in full turnout gear."

Before the weather gets any warmer, the chief said he is looking forward to fixing the air conditioner, which so far has presented the only problem with the new equipment.

"Most of the time when you do customized work, you always have a lot of little problems: rattles, leaks, light problems, electrical

problems. They've done a good job with that," Chief Unverzagt said of the two companies that built the engine.

The purchase of the truck was a major accomplishment for a company that was started with a $100 1928 Buick and a hat-passing that netted $17.40.

Back then, the former "Maryland Minute Men," as earlier firefighters were called, were called to the station by Mildred Molesworth, the fire chief's wife. When a fire call came in, she pulled a string attached to the clapper on the fire bell and started calling volunteers on the telephone.

The Fire Department is preparing a banquet in honor of its 50th birthday in November.

The new vehicle carries 1,000 gallons of water -- a must in hydrant-less areas of West County -- and 35 gallons of a chemical that can produce between 1,500 and 2,000 gallons of foam for fires from fuel or other combustable liquids.

It is also equipped with 400 feet of 4-inch-diameter hose to bring water to the engine and three smaller "attack hoses" of 200 feet each that are used to douse flames.

Money to buy the engine was raised over the years by the department's membership, which now numbers about 60.

Chief Unverzagt said the Howard County Fair is the department's main fund-raising event. With bingo, a raffle, wheels of fortune and a "quarter-fall" machine, the department raises between $10,000 and $20,000 at each fair.

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