I mentioned the realistic experiences we had playing firefighter, but when I say that Brian and I were raised in a firehouse, we arenâ€™t kidding. When we were young, there were not many days when we werenâ€™t down there at least once. At that time, North Penn had this beautiful custom Hahn engine, at the time it was designated 62-3, and it was their â€œparade pieceâ€ (Note: There is also a really nice picture of it on the Firehouse Zen Facebook page, as the header). It had a bench seat in it, in the days before SCBA were mounted in the cab.Â And on any given Saturday in the spring or summer, that meant parade days somewhere.
We would get dressed and head down there with Dad, and more often than not, Smokey (Grandpop) would be there, along with many of the other guys we knew. Our Grandfather was not just the local Fire Marshal, but the Chief Fire Marshal for Fifth District and for Montgomery County, PA. Â I really only remember Dad being an Assistant Chief and Chief for years, and Fire Marshal, of course. But I’m sure around this time he was probably a Driver. Â Anyhow, Dad would always drive and Smokey would sit on the bench seat with Brian and I. The rest of the guys would ride tailboard or stand on the running boards (Sit? In a seat? Ridiculous). Â When the trucks came out of the bays in those days, it was always like a ceremony- a fire police officer would standÂ in the road and stop traffic. Then, with the red lights reflecting off the porcelain subway tile in the bay, the truck would pull out onto the narrow front pad, and onto Main Street.Â We would always pull w-i-d-e into the lane as if mounted on this great beast, with the air brake dryer spitting once, andÂ we were off to wherever the day was going to be spent parading.
When Brian and IÂ went to parades, we were totally at home. There could be a couple hundred firefighters at one of these events, but everyone knew us as â€œChuckâ€™s Kidsâ€ or â€œSmokeyâ€™s Grandkidsâ€. Â Afterward, we would attend the housing or whatever was being celebrated.Â Brian and IÂ would check out the other pieces and compare them to our own engine, 62-3. We would drink Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer out of that particular eventâ€™s commemorative porcelain beer stein, pretending we were drinking real beer with the rest of the guys, and eating Hatfield hot dogs until we were ready to puke (like everyone else, I suppose).
Fire department picnics were a lot of the same, only without the fanfare. We would go toÂ Fischerâ€™s Pool and eat steamed clams and grilled hamburgers and play in the creek. Or up to Green Lane. Or any number of summer party spots. We played with the same kids and on occasion we could bring one or two of our â€œnon-fire departmentâ€ friends. At the time, nothing else seemed to matter. We were having a great time, crawling anywhere we wanted on the trucks, smelling the odor of musty cotton-jacketed hose, or hemp rope, or smoke-saturated turnouts.
While we couldnâ€™t wait to grow up and do the job for real, we had it really good then. As a fire chief, I still get inside the cab of one of our rigs sometimes, just to remember what it was like then. I’m positive Brian does the same. Given the changing times, itâ€™s something I know we both would have loved to share with ourÂ own children, but for any number of reasons, canâ€™t anymore. We have some pretty good memories of those days though and Iâ€™m blessed to have shared them with my brother.
Brian maintained his love of Hahn fire apparatus and recently brought me back to the fold by sharing a Hahn Fire Apparatus Facebook group with me (link is to the public group, not the closed group), and reigniting my love of these well-crafted, beautiful rigs. Years later, when 62-3 came up for sale, BrianÂ and I talked about buying her and restoring her. Â It’s probably just as well that we didn’t,Â because she has gone to a loving forever family (thanks for letting us see her from time to time, Justin). It’s not like we have time to be putzing around with a restored fire engine, but just the same- we have first dibs if she goes up for sale.
This is the countdown to March 17, and a happy 50th to my brother, Brian, the best brother anyone could ever want in the whole world.