Spencer dedicates new fire engine to memory of fallen brother
By Steve Huffman
SPENCER ó Spencer’s new fire truck is a whale of a creation, powered by a 500-horsepower diesel engine.
But Monday night, when the pumper made its maiden journey through the doors of the Spencer Fire Department, it was pushed by about 20 of the town’s current and former firefighters.
They were asked to do the deed by Fire Chief Jay Baker. It was a ceremonial act that was part of the dedication of Rowan County’s newest fire truck.
“This has not been rehearsed,” Baker warned the crowd just before the firefighters gave the pumper a mighty shove.
After they were successful in ushering the mammoth creation inside, Baker and others in the crowd of 50 or so breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“It was actually in neutral,” Baker promised, referring to the pumper’s engine that rumbled to life moments before the beast was pushed indoors. “We just wanted a backup plan if needed.”
Then everyone chuckled.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of healthy firefighters,” Baker continued, “active and retired.”
The new pumper ó Engine No. 751 ó was dedicated with both laughter and tears. It was dedicated in honor of Justin Monroe, a young Spencer firefighter who died in March while serving with the Salisbury Fire Department.
A plaque attached to the pumper’s side honors Monroe. Monroe’s parents ó Eddie and Lisa Monroe ó were guests of honor for the unveiling.
Baker said Monroe, a Spencer resident, wanted to apply to the Spencer Fire Department when he was just 16. But the department doesn’t have a junior firefighter program and doesn’t accept applications from those less than 18.
So Monroe instead joined the junior firefighter program at neighboring Miller’s Ferry Fire Department. Only 19, he was already a lieutenant with the Miller’s Ferry Fire Department when he died.
Salisbury Firefighter Victor Isler also died in the blaze.
Monroe loved firefighting so much he served all three fire departments ó Spencer, Salisbury and Miller’s Ferry. Baker and others said Monroe planned to make firefighting his career.
“Though Justin’s service was cut short, he made an impact,” Baker said, his voice breaking momentarily as he fought tears. “We promised Lisa and Eddie we’d always be here for them and Justin. He will not be forgotten.”
Baker and others detailed the story of how Engine No. 751 came to be.
The town began working toward purchasing the truck in 2005.
Mayor Jody Everhart, a former chief with the Spencer Fire Department, noted how inflation factored into the engine’s purchase.
He said that when Spencer purchased a new fire engine in 1966, it cost $33,000. By 1978, the next time the town purchased a truck, the cost had increased to $72,000.
Spencer’s next fire truck was bought in 1995 and the price was $220,000. Engine No. 751, by comparison, comes at a cost of $419,000.
But Everhart said that with that increase in price came numerous improvements. He noted that in his early days with the fire department, the drivers of the fire engines had to use hand signals.
Instead of the sophisticated headphones that today allow the driver and the engine’s occupants to communicate, firefighters not too many years ago had to shout at one another to be heard above the siren.
“We yelled,” Everhart explained.
There were plenty more problems that had to be dealt with, he said.
“We came up (to the fire department) if they even thought about snow to put on snow chains,” Everhart said.
The modern trucks are designed to plow through inclement conditions without any such apparatuses.
Everhart said all the work that went into preparing the trucks for use and the work that went into allowing Spencer to purchase engine No. 751 only served to bond the firefighters.
“We’re all here as family and to support one another,” Everhart said.
Engine No. 751 is a Seagrave Marauder II custom pumper. It’s an elaborate creation that features a six-person stainless steel split-tilt cab. It’s powered by a Detroit Diesel Series 60 motor and features an Allison 4000 EVS transmission.
It has a Waterous pump capable of shooting 1,500 gallons of water per minute and a 750 gallon L-type tank.
Not only that, it’s a sight to behold ó bright and red just like a fire engine ought to be.
Baker said that when Spencer firefighters were designing the pumper, they looked to fire departments in distant cities like New York and Washington, D.C., for inspiration.
Engine No. 751 was also modeled largely based on a pumper purchased recently by the nearby town of Cornelius.
But modifications were made to fit the needs of Spencer, Baker promised.
“It’s a whole lot of the Spencer Fire Department,” he said of the end creation.
The truck was built in Wisconsin and purchased through Seagrave Carolina. The salesman for the purchase was Jay Adams, a Spencer native who’s a full-time firefighter with the Charlotte Fire Department.
While he was showcasing for the crowd all the truck has to offer, Baker pointed out the huge storage compartments at the top of the rig.
Baker told the firefighters’ wives that when their husbands don’t come home some evening, those compartments might be the first place they want to go looking for their loved ones.
“We can hide a few in these,” Baker said, laughing.