Antioch Fire Department 'wets down' new firetruck

A new fire engine made a splash in the Antioch community Tuesday night as it was christened with a century-old “wet down ceremony.”

The ceremony dates back to the time of horse-drawn wagons, when firefighters had to wet down the wheels to protect the wood. After wetting down the apparatus, they would first push the old apparatus out of the station and then push the new one inside.

This is exactly what members of the community gathered to do at the Antioch Fire Department. About 150 people came to watch as the department welcomed a new engine for the first time since 2000.

The engine, a custom-built pumper, will replace a 40-year-old truck that was retired from service. It was purchased using $285,000 of grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $120,000 from the fire department budget. An additional $20,000 also came out of the fire department's budget to cover the cost of tools and equipment needed to stock the truck.

The department's five-member apparatus committee decided on many new features while being strictly held to the $405,000 budget. Some of those features include customizable racking, a ladder stored atop the truck controlled by a mechanical arm, overhead lighting, wireless phone headsets and much larger foldout compartments.

“We, as a group, went out and looked at different fire apparatuses and said, ‘OK, we like this idea. Can we incorporate it in?' and what you see here is the byproduct of that,” said deputy Chief Chris Leinhardt. “It's truly designed to be a working engine. It's not trying to do too much because we have to do more with less.”

As for the old engine that was pushed out of the station, it won't be “leaving the family,” Leinhardt said.

Paul Maplethorp, fire chief of the Greater Round Lake Fire Protection District, who is a former member of the department, purchased the old engine this December. His father was a longtime member of the department, who held the position of fire chief for about 20 years until the late '80s.

“I've kind of been attached to this engine since it started down the assembly line,” Maplethorp said. “When this engine was being built in Kenosha, Wis., I watched him stamp the serial number on the frame rails, watched it being built, and the day it was delivered happened to be my dad's birthday in 1973, so we rode home in it.”

Maplethorp won the engine through a village bidding process for about $35,000. He said he plans to restore the truck and use it for recreational purposes, such as parades.

“That old engine is our new engine,” said Scott Maplethorp, 18, with a laugh.

Maplethorp will be going through the fire fighting academy this summer to get his certification.

“I'm a new member of the fire department, and I wanted to support it (by coming to the event),” he said.

This was the first year the department ever hosted the ceremony, which Fire Chief John Nixon said was chosen to “formalize” the vehicle coming into the station and also get the community involved.

“I was very pleased with the community turnout,” Nixon said. “This was an opportunity for them to come down and see, without any pressure, what the firetruck looks like and how our men and women can serve them.”

The engine went into service following the ceremony.

  This $440,000 2011 U.S. Tanker Spartan replaced a Peter Pirsch which was bought for $65,000 in 1973 as Antioch firefighters and members of the community participated in a “wet-down” ceremony Tuesday evening in Antioch. Steve Lundy/
  3-year-old Liam Nixon, grandson of Antioch fire chief John Nixon, sits on the front of a 2011 U.S. Tanker Spartan as firefighters and members of the community participated in a “wet-down” ceremony by pushing the new 44,000-pound engine into the station Tuesday evening in Antioch. Steve Lundy/
  Antioch firefighters and members of the community participated in a “wet-down” ceremony by pushing a 44,000-pound 2011 U.S. Tanker Spartan into the station Tuesday evening in Antioch. The ceremony comes from East Coast departments who used to push horse-drawn steam engines into the station. Steve Lundy/
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