The Little Engine That Couldn't

Broken-down fire trucks leave Center City vulnerable.

By Mike Newall
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 30, 2006

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A firefighter hooked the hose line to the hydrant and fruitlessly banged on the compression gauge. A crowd gathered.

"That's a dinky-looking truck," said one man.

"Yeah," replied a woman. "Are these guys volunteers?"

Fortunately, it wasn't a serious fire.

A week later a reckless driver collided with Engine Company 43, tearing off the truck's front bumper. Big John made a note in his ledger, and Engine Company 43's present truck soon arrived.

It's equally rusted, and its front bumper is crunched like an accordion. The handle on the front passenger door is broken ("Getting in is like The Dukes of Hazzard," says one fireman), and a city mechanic was sent over to fix the blown-out emergency lights.

The mechanic was big and rumpled, with glasses and a crew cut. He lay on top of the truck, fixing the lights.

"How is this thing still on the road?" asked a firefighter.

"Don't ask me," replied the mechanic.

"Hey, look," said another firefighter, pointing out that the configuration of the front cab's emergency lights and siren box resembled the sad grimace of the little engine that could.

There's also an air leak in the truck's brake pads, which sometimes causes it to stall out when starting. It happened the other night. The firemen sat in the driveway for two minutes before the engine finally turned.

Fortunately, it wasn't a serious fire.

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