“Engine 9” was turned over to its new crew at Huntingdon County Public Safety Station 51 at the Huntingdon County Career and Technology Center (HCCTC) Wednesday afternoon.
The recently-retired 1973 Ward LaFrance engine was purchased from the Orbisonia-Rockhill Volunteer Fire Co. by Crist Fellman, public health and safety instructor at HCCTC for use in training his students in firefighting techniques.
“Orbisonia-Rockhill Fire Department purchased the engine and ordered it new in February 1973. President Joe Moore went up to New York and oversaw some of the construction of the truck,” said fire chief Matt Gilliland. “Max Ewing was the fire chief who was the first commanding officer of the truck. They got it to Orbisonia and its been in our possession ever since.”
Engine 9 was manufactured alongside its twin, another 1973 Ward LaFrance which was shipped to Hollywood and featured prominently in the hit 1970s television series Emergency!, for which Station 51 was named.
“We took a great deal of pride in that truck and it’s been a symbol for our community. It’s served a lot of communities over the past 45 years,” Gilliland said. “In all my years of being in the fire service in Orbisonia, that truck has always been compared to the show Emergency! It carries a lot of significance and has always been held in high regard because of the show.”
When it became apparent that the fire company would need to retire the truck due to a needed upgrade, Gilliland said he and his fellow firefighters had to come to terms with passing on their cherished engine.
“It’s not easy to see the engine go because it’s been such a staple in our community,” he said. “It’s been a major icon for our station. It’s always been there when you come into the station. To come in there and not see it there, knowing the history it has with the fire chiefs who have overseen the operation of the truck and the membership who have lead, driven and died under the service of that truck is hard. That truck holds a lot of significance for our department.”
Engine 9 was the first engine Fellman worked with upon his entry into firefighting with Orbisonia-Rockhill Volunteer Fire Co. When he heard that the engine was to be retired and sold, Fellman and his students launched a Go Fund Me campaign in an effort to purchase the truck. Bids were being accepted, so the hope was that the program would be able to place a bid.
“I received a phone call to tell me the engine would not be going anywhere and was still available,” Fellman said. “We decided on a number when my lovely wife said we can’t let that go.”
The Fellman’s made an offer to the fire department which was accepted quickly.
“(Gilliland) came back to us after the meeting to tell us they had accepted our offer,” he said. “This will mean a lot to our program. We’ve had to simulate a lot of things that are difficult to do without a vehicle.”
With the procurement of the engine, students will be able to fully train for firefighting situations.
“They will be able to truly experience how it works,” said Fellman. “It’s about getting the feel of water pressure coming off of the hoses. Once we put tools on and stuff like that, we’ll be able to to do exercises we weren’t able to do previously.”
The fact that Michael Norell, who portrayed Capt. Hank Stanley on Emergency!, visited HCCTC and personally signed the interior right side door of the engine makes the truck even more special to Fellman and his students. Huntingdon County Commissioners Mark Sather and Scott Walls were also on hand to celebrate the transfer of the engine from the fire department to Fellman.
“It’s hard for us to watch it go, but we knew the need was there. Our membership and our company and officers were very excited to see it come to this program. We are glad to be at the forefront of the public safety program to help it grow,” Gilliland said. “We’re happy to see that one of our pieces of apparatus will continue to educate future firefighters. Hopefully, we’ll see some return out of that when new firefighters get trained and come back and want to join a fire department. We hope our department will be one that sees that return. We’re really excited to have that engine up here as their first fire engine.”