Eastport Fire Department Restores Old Truck As Tribute To Volunteers

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The Eastport Fire Department’s oldest truck—a prized, shiny red pumper with a wooden ladder and chrome bell—dates back to a simpler time in firefighting, before hydrants dotted the streets.The 1931 “Day Elder,” so named for the company that built its chassis, carried 2,000 feet of 2.5-inch rubber-lined fire hose piled in its bed. Firefighters would stretch the hose from local water sources—ponds, creeks and even the bay—to a fire, using the truck’s “Hale pump” to draw in water and pump it out at a rate of 600 gallons per minute. Water would also be pumped into additional tanker trucks and used to douse the flames.

As a tribute to the department’s volunteer firefighters, both past and present, the Eastport Fire District Board of Commissioners recently spent $65,000 to have the 82-year-old truck restored, down to its newly re-chromed nuts and bolts, some 37 years after department officials managed to track it down in a Pennsylvania junkyard. The refurbished truck will be featured in a parade on Saturday, September 21, marking the Eastport Fire Department’s 100th anniversary.

“It’s part of our heritage and history,” said Tom Collins, a commissioner for the fire district, while standing next to the completely refurbished truck earlier this month.

It is not without a hint of luck—or perhaps the hand of fate—that the department still owns the roughly 22-foot-long Day Elder. In 1947, fire department leaders sent the truck back to the Hale Fire Pump Company in Pennsylvania to have the gearing in its pump replaced, allowing it to pump up to 750 gallons per minute.

Fourteen years later, after having utilized the truck for 30 years, the firefighters sold it back to the company for about $600. While the department’s needs could no longer be met by it, the fire truck featured an all-bronze, centrifugal pump—the first produced by the Hale Fire Pump Company—which wanted to put it on display at its factory.

The department, meanwhile, had purchased a new “triple combination pumper,” which boasted a pump, a water tank and a hose body all in one vehicle, and saw little need for the old pumper, Mr. Collins explained. But in 1976, with a renewed interest in the department’s history, its leaders sent a letter asking about the Day Elder and its prized bronze pump.

Much to the dismay of the firefighters, the company said the truck had landed in a junkyard in Pennsylvania after new management had scrapped the idea for a museum exhibit. The location of the pump was a mystery, the company also told officials; it had most likely been melted down and reused.

Mr. Collins said the department then contacted the junkyard, which still had the truck and was willing to sell it for $500. They transported it on a flatbed back to Eastport, and then located a later series pump in Pittsburgh.

In total, the department spent $20,000 that year, and also invested plenty of sweat equity, in its successful attempt to make the engine run and pump water again. Mr. Collins said much of the work was done by the volunteers, who repainted the truck themselves to save money.

It was not until recently, however, that the commissioners learned that the truck may be one of just about a dozen Day Elder trucks still in existence. A fire at a welding supply company in Collingdale, Pennsylvania, in 2010 destroyed a private collection of antique trucks, including at least one Day Elder, being stored at a neighboring facility, according to news reports.

After saving up the needed funds, the Eastport Fire Department decided last summer to put the restoration work out to bid, eventually awarding the contract to Croce’s Body Shop in East Moriches. Don Croce, who owns the shop, said he enjoyed working on the antique truck because he is a volunteer firefighter himself with the neighboring East Moriches Fire Department.

“A lot of time went into it,” he said, adding that they dedicated a building in back of his East Main Street shop to the 10-month-long project. “You don’t realize how much time goes into it when you’re doing something like that.”

He said workers spent months stripping the truck down and repainting all its parts. The 24-foot-long wooden ladder and rear deck were sanded and painted with polyurethane. The department sent the chrome bell out to be redone, and R&R Auto Interiors in Speonk reupholstered the bench seat.

Before it was fully restored, the Eastport Fire Department had entered the Day Elder in many competitions, called musters, and it has won numerous first-place awards for “fastest water,” according to the district commissioners.

“These are very reliable,” said Eastport Fire Commissioner Paul Massey of the Day Elder and other old trucks.

He added that he remembers hearing stories from his father, Chester Massey, a 57-year veteran of the department, about fighting fires with the antique truck, back when firefighters would hop in wearing not much more protection than a rubber coat and a hard helmet.

Since those days, much has changed about firefighting, including safety regulations meant to protect firefighters. The Eastport department, which protects the hamlets of Speonk, Remsenburg and Eastport, now has three pumper trucks, a tanker that holds a couple hundred thousand gallons of water, a rescue truck, a ladder truck, support vehicles and a boat.

The commissioners said they are proud that the Day Elder is now fully restored, explaining that it is a tribute to all volunteers who have played a role in protecting the community—the one thing that has not changed since the old truck’s prime.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Collins said after the truck was finished in June.

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