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East Hampton Fire Department Responds to Blaze in Missouri

Thu, 03/28/2024 - 07:36
East Hampton Village's fire and emergency medical services administrator, Gerry Turza, far right, passed a surplus pumper truck off to Robert Martin, second from left, and Glen Nash, third from left, who drove it back to the Ozarks, where their firehouse and all its equipment were destroyed.
Durell Godfrey

The East Hampton Village Fire Department doesn’t usually respond to fires in the middle of the Ozark Mountains. It’s a 20-hour drive, and that’s if you avoid the trade parade. 

But in a sense, after donating a Spartan pumper fire truck, replete with 4,000 feet of hose and a 500-gallon water tank, to the Eminence Area Volunteer Fire Department in Missouri Friday, it’s done just that. In early March, Eminence, which is three hours from St. Louis and five hours from Nashville, lost all its vehicles and its entire firehouse in a fire. 

It wasn’t clear how the fire began. “The state fire marshal and the insurance investigator said the source of the fire was undetermined,” said Jim Bay, the Eminence chief. His fire department has 21 volunteers and an annual operating budget of about $25,000. Contrast that with the East Hampton Village Fire Department, with 145 active members and a 2023 budget of just over $1 million. 

So, the Eminence Fire Department had a problem. Turns out, East Hampton’s fire department had a smaller problem: how to get rid of a surplus fire truck originally purchased in 1997 that was last in service in June 2023. 

“We replaced the Spartan pumper with something that better fits our current operational needs,” said Gerry Turza, the village’s fire, and emergency medical services, administrator. 

“We got appraisals by a few brokers we use and other people in the industry,” he said. “We were confident last June we could get $22,000 for it. But as time went on deals kept falling through. We lowered the price. We had some offers, but they were nowhere near the market value of the truck.” One was for $2,000. After costs, it would have netted the village only $600. “That didn’t sit well with a lot of us when we knew there were places that could use it.” 

“It’s a good truck. It’s a nice truck. Always ran good, always did well, served them right,” said David Jaycox, fleet manager of the village’s garage. “The minimum we would have received for it was nowhere near the value of giving it to Eminence.” 

A week before the fire at Eminence, a fire truck, responding to a call, slammed into a building in Rockville Centre. Mr. Turza thought to donate the truck there, but Rockville Centre had a backup. Nonetheless, that accident primed him to think of donating the truck to Eminence when he heard of its tragedy. “They lost everything. Three brush trucks, three pumpers, and a tanker.” He contacted the Missouri State fire marshal, who expressed interest, and after getting the green light from Marcos Baladron, the village administrator, he was speaking with Chief Bay on March 11. 

“It came together very quickly,” said Mr. Turza. “We had a very good conversation. Fire chief to former fire chief. It was heartfelt and open. That 9/11 truck of theirs was a real source of pride to them.” Mr. Turza presented the plan to the village board at its last meeting, and all agreed it was a good idea to donate the truck. 

On Friday, Glen Nash, an assistant chief at Eminence, was standing in the truck bay at the Emergency Services Building on Cedar Street to pick up the truck ahead of the long drive to the Ozarks. (The truck’s top speed is 55 miles per hour and it gets less than 10 miles to the gallon. Even with a 50-gallon fuel tank, many stops will be required on the 1,250 mile journey.) His eyes were rimmed with red. It had been a long couple of days. The day before, he responded to a fire at 1:30 a.m. and didn’t get home until 5 a.m. By 10 that night, he and Robert Martin, another Eminence firefighter, were on a flight from St. Louis to Kennedy Airport with a connection in Dallas. Tom Bock, an ex-chief in the East Hampton Village Fire Department, picked them up and brought them to the East Hampton House, where their accommodations were covered by two members of the village board. 

In the bay, he explained that he and his son were the first on scene for the Eminence fire. “We made entry to try and get out a truck and we couldn’t do it. It was so smoky and hot we had to head right back out. We had to sit there and watch that burn.” It hadn’t been easy, but the generosity of many fire departments had picked them up when they were down. “We appreciate each and every single one of them that has helped us get back up and running again.” 

Above his desk, Mr. Turza has a quote tacked to the wall, “The mission is always the people.” We’re in this business to help other people, he said. The village of East Hampton had an opportunity to do this. This is who we are.” 

“We can’t thank East Hampton enough,” said Chief Bay. “Gerry has been great.” Other municipalities have kicked in too. “We’ve gotten so many donations of fire gear, that we’ll be donating some to a lot of the little fire departments down here. Some have annual budgets of $3,500. How do they make it? I don’t know.” 

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