Antioch plans ‘wetting down’ ceremony to welcome first new fire engine since 2000

Two years after it originally received a federal grant, the Antioch Fire Department is gearing up to welcome its newest fire engine with a ceremony from the time of horse-drawn wagons.

On May 29, the department will host an event featuring the century-old rituals of “wetting down” the new truck, pushing out the old truck and pushing in the new truck.

“In days gone by, when the horses were pulling the fire engines, the tradition was to wet down the wheels and wipe them off and then push the fire pump into the station,” fire Chief John Nixon said. “They wet down the wheels because they wanted to maintain the wooden spokes, so they wouldn’t come into disrepair.”

This will be the department’s first time hosting such a ceremony.

“We were talking amongst fire fighters about a way to formalize the vehicle coming into the station for the first time,” Nixon said. “We wanted to make it an event, so citizens could get involved.”

The new engine will replace a 40-year-old truck that was retired from service.

The department received the assistance to firefighters grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in January 2010. It covered $285,000 of the $405,000 cost. The balance was paid by the fire department’s budget, along with an additional $20,000 for tools and equipment.

The new custom-built pumper engine took about 10 months to build and was delivered from U.S. Tanker, a Wisconsin fire apparatus manufacturer, in November 2011. Since then, the department has been preparing it with tools and equipment.

The new engine will keep the pumper truck count at four, one at each station and one reserve. There are also one ladder truck and two tankers.

The last time the department bought a new truck was in 2000, Nixon said.

The truck may look a bit different from the others. The department’s apparatus committee decided the new truck will feature a traditional black roof and red body, as opposed to most of Antioch’s trucks that have a white roof.

“The committee felt this was an opportunity to move ahead as the Antioch Fire Department turns 100 years old next March ... (and) adopt a new tradition,” Nixon said. “Black over red is very popular in Chicagoland.”

The truck will also display a newly designed Antioch Fire Department symbol.

The ceremony is set for May 29 at 7 p.m. at Fire Station 1, 835 Holbek Drive. It is open to the public.

Nixon said he sees the event as an opportunity to bring together Antioch residents and members of the department and their families.

“I think (the event) reaffirms a strong bond that the fire department has with the community,” he said. “It allows us to interact with the community in a fun manner rather than under difficult situations.”

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