‘Retired’ fire apparatus has immense sentimental value


Longtime Indian River Volunteer Fire Company member Willie Merchant of Oak Orchard stands next to Indian River’s 1968 Mack that was among the “antique” fire apparatus on display at the Nutter Marvel Carriage Museum on First Saturday in Georgetown. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County is rich in fire service history.

Last Saturday, some of those treasures caught the public’s eye.

A stationary parade of fire trucks and fire apparatus from departments and companies in Sussex County augmented the Nutter Marvel Carriage Museum’s other attractions Saturday during the Georgetown Non-Profit Alliance’s July edition of First Saturday in Georgetown.

For 28-year Indian River Volunteer Fire Company member Willie Merchant and others with firefighting blood in their veins, these antiques and classics have immense sentimental value.

Mr. Merchant brought Indian River’s historic 1968 Mack to show.

“My grandfather, Gordon Edwards, had his last ride on this truck – his funeral. He was a 60-plus year member of the Delaware Fire Service. He was a career firefighter for Dover Air Force Base. He was charter member of the Bowers Beach Fire Department, and a life member of the Frederica Volunteer Fire Department as well as Indian River,” said Mr. Merchant. “And my son also had his final ride on this truck … three years ago.”

Eric Pepper, a fourth-generation firefighter and 26-year member of Georgetown Fire Company, shared information about Station 77’s historic 1883 Holloway hand-drawn ladder, which was parked next to a 1922 American LaFrance truck – Georgetown’s first motorized apparatus.

FS Georgetown truck alyn scritchfield snapping

Seaford Volunteer Fire Department member Alyn Scritchfield snaps photos of one of Georgetown’s antique fire trucks at First Saturday in Georgetown.

“It is hand-drawn; people get that confused with horse drawn. But it is hand-drawn, usually four to six people,” said Mr. Pepper.

In other words: no motor or horsepower, only human power.

Back in late 19th century, with no water hydrants, the Holloway ladder carried leather buckets to put the water in to put the fire out, tools including pick-axe and an axe and of course ladders.

“And nobody rode on it; just ladders and equipment,” Mr. Pepper said.

The 1922 American LaFrance 1922 arrived from the manufacturing plant in Elmira, N.Y. by railcar.

“It was delivered to us at the Georgetown Train Station,” said Mr. Pepper, who followed his great-grandfather, grandfather and father in fire service.

And his brother Joey is a past fire chief.

“It runs in the family,” said Mr. Pepper.

Georgetown’s third entry in the First Saturday show was its retired1954 Mack.

Indian River’s 1968 Mack, built in Allentown, Pa., saw active service up until about eight years ago when it went into semi-retirement.

“This was the first one out the door for department for probably 30 years,” said Mr. Merchant. “I was the engineer of the truck for about five years. It was assigned to me to care of …”

Now, the Indian River 1968 Mack’s duty is reserved for special events, parades, shows and competitions. It has garnered top categorical honors several times in the Delaware Firemen’s Association Parade.

“If we know that it’s going to a show or a parade we’ll have a work party a week ahead of time. Four or five of us will get together and clean it up,” Mr. Merchant said. “I tried to clean it up last night but driving it up here in the rain it got a little bit dirtier than I’d like it to be. But it’s still presentable.”

“It’s a very historical truck,” Mr. Merchant said. “It has a lot of sentiment to most of the members.”

First Saturday at the Marvel Museum drew fire apparatus from Rehoboth, Gumboro, Ellendale, Greenwood, Indian River, Georgetown and Seaford, and 358 visitors.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com.

FS Rehoboth ladder aeriasl view

Rehoboth Beach’s ladder truck provides an aerial view of First Saturday in Georgetown. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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