There’s something about a fire truck. Just watch the face of a child when they see one, horns ablaze and lights flashing. For little kids who grow up wanting to be a firefighter, that love extends well into adulthood and beyond. These days, at the East Greenwich Veteran Fireman’s Club (EGVFC), a certain group of retired firefighters continue to enjoy their love of the bright red vehicles, tinkering with them while sharing stories of days gone by. Last December, though, things got particularly exciting for the club, which opened in 1974 and sits high on a hill on Queen Street with sweeping views of the restaurants and harbor below.
“This is the Rolls Royce of fire trucks,” says John Pierson, a retired deputy fire chief, leaning on “the Fox,” an Ahrens-Fox ladder truck, which served the town from 1931 to 1958, before it was sold to a volunteer department in South Meriden, Connecticut. The Fox now lives in the museum inside the club – which also houses a bar and event hall (and outside, a patio and tiki bar) – in addition to the five restored fire trucks and hundreds of artifacts from the department’s history, first as a volunteer operation and then, beginning in 1969, as a paid department.
According to Pierson, the club members started to realize in the 1980s that there was great historic value in preserving these historic trucks. So they started doing that, with a focus on finding ones, like the Fox, that they’d lost track of. When the Fox made its return after a 60-plus year absence, there were many excited museum volunteers eager to receive it. The host fire house no longer had room for it, and while it wasn’t in bad shape, it needed extensive repairs and updates. The plan was to restore it and add it to the collection of trucks that are used in parades and at events. There were only three Foxes ever built, and this is the last one in existence.
“We’re very fortunate to have it back,” says Bob Farrell, who served as a volunteer firefighter in East Greenwich for many years. The list of repairs was long, and it included the rebuilding and painting of seven wooden ladders. Farrell was part of the team of a dozen museum committee members, including Pierson, Leigh Johnson, Lawson Salisbury, Mason Rhodes, and Jon Larsson – though sadly Salisbury passed away last year and Larsson, this year. “Larsson fixed everything on this truck,” says Pierson. “He was so excited that finally, all five of our trucks were running well. And now he isn’t here to enjoy it.”
The team finished the work in time to drive it in the East Greenwich Memorial Day Parade in May and enter it into the fire truck competition at the annual Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus convention in July. The Fox made its parade debut and went on to win the Presidential Award, beating out dozens of other entrants.
On a sunny fall afternoon in the garage, there’s a bittersweet feeling as Larsson is no longer here to share in the camaraderie of a special project. Already, the group looks forward to the next project – installing a refurbished Gamewell fire alarm pull box, fixtures that lined street corners throughout America since the early 1900s. When the box went up outside, it was dedicated to the memory of Jon Larsson.
“Volunteer departments are fading away,” says Farrell. And while that may be true, in this corner of Rhode Island, their history and tradition live on alongside the memories of the volunteer firefighters who valiantly served their communities.
The EGVFC museum is open for
school groups and special events at
80 Queen Street, East Greenwich, 884-9817.
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