WHEATFIELD — Although the new tanker/pumper truck was two months late in arriving, the Wheatfield firefighters were happy to have the new truck to show off at their annual pancake dinner Saturday. The truck is a 2019 Freightliner built specifically for the fire department and will be housed at the station in Kersey.

The new truck holds 3,000 gallons of water with a 750 gallon pump. It was put in-service Saturday and the truck it was replacing was retired. The firefighters referred to the old truck as a “death trap,” and they weren’t unhappy to see it go. “It was very unsafe,” said Fire Chief Mark Ratliff.

The fire department, which is an incorporated non-profit, was able to pay for a portion of the truck with a grant from Jasper Newton Foundation for $30,000 and a grand from Jasper County REMC, which paid for a half of a new dump tank that will travel with the truck.

The pumper/tanker will be used to provide mutual aide for Keener Twp. Fire and any others asking for assistance. The many rural areas in the northern portion of the county require tanker trucks to deliver water to fires where there are no hydrants. The tankers dump the water into a large dump tank and the pumper engines draw from the tank to extinguish a fire.

This new truck has a back up camera so the driver can see when he needs to stop the truck in just the right spot, and it has an interior button that will open the tanker allowing the water to dump out without having to climb out of the cab and pull a lever as they’ve had to do in the past. The fire department financed the rest of the truck. Their fundraisers help them purchase new and safer equipment.

David Myers, who is the fire department’s president, said they are waiting to hear if they will be awarded grants in 2020. He said they’re waiting to hear from three grants that they’ve applied for, and will use to purchase new protective gear. Myers said the chief (Mark Ratliff) is an advocate for safety and wants the volunteer firefighters to have the best protective gear with all the latest technology to keep them safe.

Firefighters are susceptible to cancer from the carcinogens they breathe while working a fire scene. The hope is to have safer SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus) to prevent them from breathing in too many of the toxins in the smoke.

“We love the relationships we’re building with Keener Fire, township trustees, the town and the foundation,” Myers said as they seek to find funding to keep ahead of the latest technology, while replacing aging equipment.