Reborn firetruck dedicated

1980 engine refurbished in memory of fallen Cape Coral firefighter

By CHARLES RUNNELLS
CRUNNELLS@NEWS-PRESS.COM
Published by news-press.com on July 14, 2005

Three years later, that battered old firetruck looks almost brand new.

Gone are the rusted panels. Chrome and red paint gleam under the Southwest Florida sun. And a new siren wails as loudly as ever.

Cape Coral firefighter Lt. Paul Christman gazed with pride Tuesday at the recently finished pump truck.

"I'm glad its done," he said grinning.

Christman, 41, tinkered with the 1980 American LaFrance for three years, cutting out rusted panels and welding in new ones during quiet hours at Fire Station No. 5 on Diplomat Parkway.

The finished Engine 95 ó a relic from earlier days of the Cape fire department ó will make a fitting memorial, he said.

Cape firefighters bought the truck in honor of firefighter Michael McCarthy who died of a heart attack while working a 1984 car fire. He was holding one of the pump truck's fire hoses at the time.

McCarthy is the only city firefighter to die in the line of duty. A plaque on the truck states: "In memory of our fallen brother."

Christman got a plaque of his own from Firefighters Local 2424, honoring him for his hard work.

"He did a beautiful job," said union president Jerry Doviak. "It looks like it just rolled off the assembly line in 1980.

"Paul rebuilt it inch by inch, step by step, rivet by rivet."

Firefighters envision the truck as a rolling memorial to

McCarthy and other firefighters who have died.

The union bought the truck in July 2001 for $4,600. It had been given away in a swap two years before for a hazardous material truck from the Bayshore Fire Department.

Later, firefighter Tom Downey spotted the truck at a car dealership. So he and other firefighters persuaded the union to buy it.

"It was like a knife in the heart seeing that truck sitting there," Doviak said. "It wasn't just any truck. It was history to us."

Many current firefighters, including Christman, started out on that truck.

Will Strasser, 36, said the truck is in even better shape now than it was when the fire department sold it.

"It was rusted out and in bad shape," he said. "We're excited to see it like this."

Christman estimates the union paid about $3,000 for renovation materials. But it could have cost much more. Reliable Auto Paint & Supplies and Master Touch Auto Body donated materials and some labor.

Although the truck is only 24 years old, the difference between it and newer models is obvious.

Instead of enclosed backseats, for example, firefighters rode in open-air "jumpseats" that exposed them to the wind and rain. The truck also has a steel tailboard on which firefighters would perch on the way to a fire.

The renovated truck has already appeared in two parades this year, and the union plans to roll it out for even more city events.

Christman said he hated to see the truck in such poor shape. "It had to be done. This is Cape Coral history."

Besides, he said, it's important to honor fallen firefighters such as McCarthy.

"He gave the ultimate sacrifice one day at work," Christman said. "And it can happen to any one of us at any time."