Anyone who has been in the fire service for any length of time knows that it is a profession that is filled with tradition. Many of the things that are done and have been done in the past date back to colonial days and as far reaching as biblical days. Our badges and symbols of rank reflect the use of the firefighters tools of historic days when the Chief Officers would direct operation with a device now only used as a retirement gift with inscriptions on it.
It is also well know that some of our rituals, such as hanging on the side or back step of fast moving apparatus are things that need to be kept in our past – or – the gauge of a firefighters capability was how much “smoke he or she could eat”.
We also have a number of “rights of passage” that are very traditional. When a “rookie” or recruit moves from that status into a full fledged firefighting member of a fire department, we provide them with a different color helmet than was worn as a fledgling member. The same is true with each elevation in rank, and with that movement up in stature, a change in the color of helmet and badge designation.
Another custom in the American Fire Service that has survived and is “alive and well” in our state is the ceremony called a “new apparatus wet-down/push-in”. This process dates back to the 1800’s when horses pulled fire apparatus and the pumps were powered by steam.
It was common practice for the firefighters, upon returning from an alarm, to wet down the horses and the apparatus. They would then return the horses to the stable portion of the station and push the apparatus into the bay. (Apparently horses did not have a reverse gear!)
Wikipedia defines a “wetting down” as a christening of fire engines and a ceremonial water salute given to vehicles, including ships and airplanes.
It goes on to describe a wet down as a ritual celebrated by many fire departments in the United States in which squads of firefighters ritualistically commission a new fire apparatus by anointing it with water spray from the unit it is replacing.
ALIVE AND WELL IN MISSOURI
I am happy to report that this time-honored tradition is alive and well in Missouri. Within the last couple of months, two departments have held such ceremonies. The Boone County Fire Protection District in Columbia recently received a huge order of over a dozen new apparatus and Station Eight is shown in this article doing their wet down/push in.
The other department who recently received new apparatus was the City of Branson, Their special day was in early January, when Chef Ted Martin announced the cities new $595,000 engine would be dedicated at their fire station three with a wet-down ceremony. Leaders from the city of Branson, including Mayor Karen Best, firefighters from the area and a throng of interested citizen were all part of the ceremony. Everyone went outside for the wet-down and helped push in the new 2016 KME apparatus.
This was a huge public relations even for the Fire Department. It allowed many citizens to see the progress being made in the department and each person in attendance received an official fire department towel used to dry the unit after it entered the station.