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Old LI fire truck finds new life in Tenn. town — population, 83

A fire truck that was formerly used by

A fire truck that was formerly used by the Commack Fire Department was delivered in January to the Clear Fork Volunteer Fire Department in Rugby, Tennessee. Credit: Steve Dunshee

A decommissioned 1989 Commack Fire Department pumper is back in service with the six-member fire department of a remote Tennessee mountain community.

Commack fire district commissioners late last year sold the truck, worth about $10,000, for $1,000 to the Clear Fork Volunteer Fire Department of Rugby, Tennessee, after learning the community had lost one of its few restaurants and a home in separate fires last year.

Long Island’s relatively affluent fire districts sell about 100 vehicles each year to departments elsewhere in the United States and even in South America, said Commack’s broker on the deal, Jim Gibbons of Manhasset-based Signal 5 Fire Apparatus. Usually they’re trying to get top dollar. But in Commack, "We wanted to help," said Patrick Fazio, board of fire commissioners chairman. "That truck is going to save lives and property."

Rugby – unincorporated, population roughly 83 – sits about 90 minutes northwest of Knoxville in a rural county bigger than Nassau but with a 60th of the population. The nearest ambulance comes from Wartburg, an hour away. A state prison facility is one of the biggest employers in the area and many residents are retirees, said Clear Fork fire chief Gerald Hanwright, who grew up in Valley Stream but left in 1967. At 66, he is one of Rugby’s younger permanent residents, he said.

"When you’re in a small town like this, everyone has to pitch in," Hanwright said. Still, for most of the past decade, the department had just three volunteers: him, a man who was a couple years older and a man who is now 80. Many Long Island districts control multimillion dollar budgets funded by property taxes; Clear Fork's 2020 budget was $3,000, including revenue from the county, the electric company and private donations. Commack has a $5 million budget.

Hanwright had two firefighting trucks under his command, but burglars stole a truck gas tank, radiator and manifold, he said. One truck, a four-wheel drive vehicle bought with a Homeland Security grant, worked well in town but broke down if driven more than five miles. "We always wound up towing that thing back. It costs a lot to tow a fire truck," Hanwright said.

The fires last year were a turning point. "It woke people up," he said. "It took a disaster for people to realize, ‘Maybe I can help.’ "

Among the new volunteers was Steve Dunshee, 59, a retired professional firefighter from New Hampshire who’d recently moved to Rugby. Dunshee helped find the Commack truck and is now the deputy chief.

The pumper arrived in Rugby on a flatbed in January and earlier this month the firefighters paraded the truck through town and showed it off in the parking lot of R.M. Brooks General Store.

The event drew dozens of residents and the new truck "lifted the spirits of everybody in town," Hanwright said. His next goals include outfitting the firehouse with heat and running water. Dunshee, who may one day take over the department, said the pumper "can do the job we need it to do. The Commack guys took good care of their equipment."

The Clear Fork department name will be painted on the truck, he said, but "I would like to keep something ... that says Commack."

Back on the job

The 1989 Spartan pumper has a 500-gallon tank and delivers up to 1,500 gallons of water per minute. It has 40,000 miles.

A comparable vehicle would sell new for up to $500,000; Commack sold the truck for $1,000 and threw in some firefighting equipment.

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