POYNOR - Missing: One 1977 faded red firetruck. Used daily, rode hard and put up wet. Reward offered for information leading to its safe return. Replacement value: "priceless."
Discouraged firefighters with the Poynor Volunteer Fire Department are considering a similar ad if it means a reunion with their beloved one-ton Chevrolet grass truck, stolen last month from the bay of the fire house.
Firefighters showing up for their regular meeting last month hoisted up the station door and discovered nothing but air.
The firetruck - one of two maintained by the 15-member department - was nowhere to be found.
Two sets of bunker gear also were missing.
"We used that truck for everything," said Poynor Fire Chief Richard Perry. "That was our first-out truck on med calls and weather watches."
The truck also was used to combat grass fires, structure fires and any emergency incidents that produced even a faint poof of smoke.
"That truck was there in 1978 when I first joined the department, at age 16," the chief said. "I feel violated every time I walk into the station."
Efforts are under way to work through the anger.
The department is planning a Saturday barbecue, hoping an outpouring of hungry diners will generate enough donations to make a dent in the cost of replacement, which is somewhere around $75,000.
Sort of like fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun, it seems.
In the interim, the community of about 450 must lean more heavily on mutual aid provided by neighboring fire departments.
"We're making calls in our personal vehicles," said Linda Perry, training officer. "We had to call for help on a wreck last week. Our equipment was on the truck - everything we needed for wrecks, traffic control, our brand new chain saw, landing lights for helicopters is gone. That truck was our life. We're going to have a lot of people in bad shape if we don't get it back."
Henderson County Sheriff's Officials appear equally frustrated.
"We've looked that county over," said HCSO Lt. Dan Parker. "It's not just missing - I believe it's a real theft. We've had help in looking."
Parker said the agency welcomed the assistance of a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter crew, who checked the area by air as searchers scoured the woods by foot. A reward is being offered through Crimestoppers to help crack the case, the lieutenant said.
"This is the first time I've ever heard of someone stealing a firetruck," Parker said. "It's definitely different."
The department, which survives by donations, isn't giving up.
An annual "all you can eat" barbecue dinner is planned for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday with all proceeds going toward the cost of another truck. The cost of the meal is a donation to the truck fund.
The department will whip up brisket, chicken, sausage, pinto beans, salads, pickles, onions, desserts and drinks. Take-out orders are available. The event will be held downtown at the Poynor City Hall/Fire Department.
Firefighters are even dipping into their own pockets to cover the costs of the food.
Now they ask the public to do the same.
"The community needs our support," Perry said. "That's a hard thing to do without a truck."
Poynor is located 23 miles south of Athens on U.S. Highway 175. Donations are being accepted through the First State Bank in Frankston, P.O. Box 277, Frankston, TX, 75763, (903) 876-2212. Checks should include the notation, "Poynor Fire Department."
Reprinted with permission of the Tyler Morning Telegrpah