Fire truck welcomed with a good dousing

An old-fashioned bucket brigade welcomed a modern fire truck into use at the Rescue Hose Company on Saturday. The wet down ceremony was a first for RHC personnel.

Greencastle Rescue Hose Company's new fire truck received a baptism Saturday afternoon. The 2010 Pierce Heavy Duty Rescue Squad was on the receiving end of a wet down and housing, carrying on a long tradition among volunteer fire companies.

A crowd of 75 gathered to witness and participate in the ceremony.

"We're here to put our newest addition into service," fire chief Kevin Barnes said.

The 'big pig', as RHC members were already calling the squad, was initiated with a wet down, with neighboring fire companies, past fire chiefs Dick Mellott, Gary Hawbaker and Craig Amsley, and the public invited to join in.

Spokesman Ben Thomas Jr. admitted many firefighters themselves had the same question as the audience, "What is a wet down?" Since the last new truck dedicated to the RHC arrived in 1990, many people were not familiar with the tradition. According to various sources, wet downs dated to the horse-drawn pumper days, when the horses were wet down after a fire to cool and clean them. Alternatively, water was transferred from an old truck to the new one, or visiting mutual aid partners sprayed the new apparatus with water from their trucks.

Thomas introduced a twist. Past and present RHC officers formed a bucket brigade, hauling water from a portable folding tank to the basin of the 1741 hand pumper. The youth pumped as hard and fast as they could. Eventually water flowed from the hose, held by Kyle Mellott, and sprayed the sides of the 2010 unit. Then everyone present was encouraged to dry a section of the squad, a sign of community unity, Thomas said.

Finally, RHC volunteers put their right hands on the truck while Wayne Warren, one of four chaplains for the company, offered a blessing. The people then symbolically pushed the truck into the station, as chief engineer Don Eshleman Sr. slowly backed it into place. Applause filled the hall.

During the program, RHC president Shanon Hummer emphasized that everyone needed to be trained on the squad, since it was the first vehicle dispatched to emergency scenes. "This is the future. It's huge!" he declared, and praised the layout of the equipment on two levels.

Barnes pointed out some of the features, designed for efficiency and safety. The cab was 84 inches long, seating seven, with a 22.5 foot rescue body. The truck had permanent and portable winches and a 35 kW generator.

The Pierce arrived June 25, cluminating two years of work by the apparatus planning committee. It's $600,000 pricetag was covered by fundraisers and public and private donations.

Hudson Garland, 18 months, dried with the best of them, with a little help from his dad, Jeff Garland.