Firefighters in Crawford, Texas are about to receive a fire engine, a rescue truck, an ambulance and an array of equipment donated by fire departments and manufacturers around the country in an effort to help the small department provide better protection for the home town of President George W. Bush.
The Bush ranch is located about seven miles outside of Crawford, population 701, and the Crawford VFD will be on the front line if there is ever a disaster at the ranch. "Whenever he's out here it's a national security issue," said Crawford Assistant Chief John Brooks.
The population of the town swells when the President arrives, and visits from foreign dignitaries often draw multiple groups of protestors, Brooks said.
The department covers an area of about 80 square miles and firefighters used to have to wait 15 to 20 minutes for nearby cities to bring over tools such as the "jaws of life."
They also have very little water supply in the area, but had to get by on one small, 700-gallon engine and two mini-pumper/brush trucks.
The department will officially take ownership of their new equipment at an unveiling ceremony Saturday and will meet with many of those who helped organize the effort.
"I'm still trying to let all this sink in," Brooks said. "A lot of us are still trying to figure out, how did we get this lucky."
The effort began over the summer when Crawford's Congressman Chet Edwards asked Congressman Curt Weldon, a founding member of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, for help in acquiring better equipment.
CFSI sent a few people down to assess the department's needs and then appealed to fire departments and manufacturers for donations. "The response we received was overwhelming," said CFSI Executive Director Bill Webb. "We're very excited to have been able to help these guys out. There aren't too many fire departments in the country that face such a challenge."
The worth of the donated equipment has been estimated at over half a million dollars, far exceeding Brooks' expectations. "I figured we'd get gear and some air packs and radio equipment, but it just kept going and kept going."
"It's a big thrill for us," Brooks said.
Steve Austin, a past president of the Delaware Volunteer Firemen's Association and the coordinator of the Association's out of state events, was one of those who went down to Crawford to see what they needed.
"It was just real apparent these firefighters are not unlike any other firefighters in the U.S. They just had a tremendous increase in their mission for delivery of emergency service. They're up to the challenge, they just need some help," Austin said.
The Delaware Volunteer Firemen's Association solicited the help of some of the greatest contributors, Delaware's Hockessin and Cheswold volunteer fire companies.
Chief Tucker Dempsey of the Cheswold Fire Department offered the association their 1964 Ford American LaFrance, which they had just replaced, before they even knew where it would be donated. "The great thing is it's going someplace its going to get used," Dempsey said. It carries 1,000 gallons of water and has a 750 gpm pump.
Chief David Roser, of the Hockessin VFC said they were honored that Bush stopped by their firehouse when he was campaigning. They donated an Autocar, called Rescue 19, that was placed in service in 1978.
"We thought it would be nice to do something for them. They certainly don't have a lot of money down there and we thought it would be a good gesture," Roser said. "We're not a wealthy company but sometimes our used equipment is still in good shape, and we want to give it to someone who can make use of it."