With a splash of a hose, a prayer and the ringing of shiny silver bell, Capital City Fire and Rescue christened two new fire engines into its fleet Thursday evening.
Roughly 100 people — friends and family members of firefighters past, present and future — turned out for the event at the Glacier Fire Station to participate in CCFR’s first ever “wetting down” and blessing of the fleet ceremony.
Firefighter Capt. John Krebsbach doused the side of the new Pierce engine with a hose as it was parked just outside the station, prompting little kids — some of whom were aspiring firefighters, dressed in full gear — to run over and wipe it down with clean rags.
“Those tires are lookin’ good, you guys,” one firefighter encouraged the youngsters, among the hooting and hollering of the crew.
Firefighters then grabbed hold of the side of the apparatus and pushed it into the station, with firefighter Jayme Johns at the wheel.
Fire Chief Richard Etheridge told the crowd the ceremony was the start of a new tradition.
“Traditions have to start somewhere,” he said. “We thought this would be an excellent tradition to get going with us.”
The wash down ceremony harkens back to the days of horse-drawn pumpers when both the horses and fire engines would be washed outside the station after a call. The company would then push the engine back into place to be ready for the next run.
“This is symbolic of those days back when the fire service first started,” Etheridge said.
Fastened to front of both engines is a large silver bell, soon to be engraved with the date of christening. Those bells are intended to be passed down to engine after engine long after these two new trucks have retired. It’s another long-standing fire service tradition new to CCFR.
“We’re creating our own traditions in the fire department here,” Etheridge said. “In 100 years, we’ll have 100-year-old bells riding on the front bumpers of our engines.”
Paramedic with the downtown station Bobby Montez, who brought along his daughter, Faith, 3, and son, Silvester, 5, to the ceremony, said he enjoyed getting on board with the new traditions.
“Traditions are kind of like the backbone of the fire service,” he said. “They’ve been around as long as we have, and it’s nice to see that some of the old traditions are still carried on for future generations, something to look back on.”
There’s been a push at CCFR in the past year and a half to emphasize the traditions of the fire service in order to burnish an even deeper sense of pride of the profession, Etheridge said in an interview. Some other examples include installing a historical display case at the downtown station that features an old Juneau firefighter helmet from the late 1800s, old bunker gear from the 1940s, and vintage uniforms and fire bells.
“Firefighting, it’s a difficult job,” Etheridge said. “It’s got a lot of stress in it ... and the traditions are another way to make them a tighter knit group of people.”
The idea for the ceremony, Etheridge said, originated from the teachings of professional firefighter and motivational speaker Rick Lasky, the author of “Pride & Ownership: A Firefighter’s Love of the Job.” The book highlights values associated with the fire service, such as integrity, honor and pride, and Etheridge procured a grant earlier this year that paid for Lasky to speak to CCFR and other departments at the University of Alaska Southeast.
The message seems to be catching on.
“It’s pride and ownership,” Capt. Ray Roberts with the Douglas station said about the engines. “It’s a very good day, it’s a very good sight, it’s new technology for us.”
The two new engines, which are replacing two old Seagraves that have had about 20 years of service, can each hold up to 750 gallons of water. They were designed specially by a CCFR committee headed by Division Chief Volunteer Beth Weldon. She says it took more than a year to research, design and purchase both engines, which cost about $1.2 million altogether.
Weldon said one of the unique design aspects is the engines are built so that hoses and other tools of the trade are situated lower than the old engines so they would be easier to grab.
“They look really tall, but everything that we need to get is short,” Weldon said. “We made the comment that we can’t take Chief Etheridge to every call, because he’s so tall. You can see the back is short and the side is short, so everything that firefighters have to grab is way down low.”
One of the engines will be stationed at the downtown Juneau station and the other at the Glacier Station. Those are the two district stations that provide the bulk of the city’s medical and fire fighting services.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Weldon said. “It’s always nice to have new shiny stuff.”
The shine also caught the eye of Rebecca Watts’ son, Dylan.
“He’s excited to see the fire trucks,” Rebecca said as Dylan wiped water off the side of the engine. “He’s been talking about this all week.”
“They’re beautiful,” marveled Auke Bay volunteer firefighter Betty Svensson. “It’s great to have some new engines and retire some of the older ones.”
Fire Marshal Daniel Jager noted he was pleased with the turnout.
“It’s not only a big day for the department. It’s also a big day for the community,” Jager said. “They’re getting state-of-the-art equipment to tend to their emergencies. They’re safer, more efficient. And the thing to remember is as taxpayers, this is their apparatus.”
Before the engines were washed, they were blessed by CCFR Chaplain Sam Dalin.
“As these trucks leave the scene and return to stations, bring them all home safe,” Dalin prayed.
In closing remarks, Etheridge said fire engines are just pieces of equipment. It’s the firefighters operating them that make them great.
“They’ve got hoses and pumps and water, and beyond that they’re just a piece of apparatus,” he said. “It’s the people that ride on those that make them what they are, and these fire engines and the people on them are a symbol of hope. On someone’s worse day — their house is on fire, someone’s having a heart attack or is really sick — the first thing that people get when these guys arrive on scene, they get a little bit of hope that things are going to start getting better. So it’s the firefighters, the EMTs and the paramedics that make these apparatuses the special things they are for our fleet.”
After the ceremony, the engines would be ready for service that same evening.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.