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Engine No. 4 ends its long run with GFD

Monday, August 9, 2010

(Photo)
Retired Greencastle firefighter Dave Varvel stands proudly next to Engine No. 4, a 1971 Mac diesel on which he served for 20 years. The truck was recently sold as a training vehicle to the J. Everett Light Career Center in Indianapolis after nearly four decades of service to the Greencastle community. Banner Graphic/JARED JERNAGAN [Order this photo]
GREENCASTLE -- For nearly four decades, Engine No. 4 has been a constant with the Greencastle Fire Department. The 1971 Mac has served the city since the city purchased it new.

The truck moved on to a new assignment, though, as the city recently sold it to the J. Everett Light Career Center in Indianapolis.

At the time of purchase, Engine No. 4 was state-of-the-art, as the first diesel fire truck in Putnam County and the first with a five-man, enclosed cab. It carried 1,000 gallons of water, the most of any pumper in the area.

The truck spent many years as the department's first-call apparatus, responding to most calls.

Even after it was refurbished in 1991 -- getting a new pump, tank, boxes and an automatic transmission -- it still spent nearly two more decades as a township truck for the department.

The truck was finally replaced last year with the purchase of a Pierce PUC, which serves the city as both a pumper and a rescue truck. Engine No. 4 has been housed at the Putnam County Fairgrounds Emergency Services Building for the past year.

However, Dave Varvel recalls fondly the days when the truck was a vibrant and integral part of the city's fire service. He joined the department just two years after Engine No. 4 in 1973. He spent his two decades on the department closely linked to the truck.

"To a fire fighter, the equipment he works with almost becomes a part of him," Varvel said. "You get emotionally attached."

Varvel, who now serves as the city's building inspector, remembers his first contact with the truck, in the days before he joined GFD.

"The first time I saw this fire truck, I was home on leave, standing by the old Fleenor's Drug Store," Varvel said. "At that time, I never dreamed I'd be on the fire department."

But join he did, and spent many years with the truck. A lot has changed since the early days, especially in the area of safety. The truck originally had just a single light on top of the cab, as well as top-mounted air horns.

The 1991 refurbishment saw this change, as a full light bar, additional lights, safety handles and lower-mounted horns were added.

Additionally, firefighters could still legally ride tailboard when Varvel joined, standing on the back and simply holding on to the rails on top.

"You always rode with your knees bent," Varvel said. "That was your shock absorber."

Equipment was also used in very different ways at that time. The pumper-rescue truck combo that replaced Engine No. 4 would have been unimaginable in 1973. The department also didn't have 4-wheel drive trucks for field fires.

"The equipment was used a lot and abused a lot," Varvel said.

Taking the trucks out into muddy fields, they more than once got the large engines stuck.

"We used them to the best of our abilities. You have to use what you have," Varvel said. "There's always been times when local farmers would help us out with their equipment."

For all the things that have changed and all the big fires the truck worked, what Varvel recalled most fondly were the people -- a commodity that hasn't really changed on any department over the years.

"A lot of firefighters have worked this truck over the years -- some are still with us, some are gone," Varvel said. "From '73 to '93, there were a lot of people I worked with, a lot of good people."



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