Firefighters donate truck to Ala. town hit by tornado

Officials initially had tried to sell the fire apparatus, which is a 1985 model that was refurbished in the 1990s

By Collin Binkley
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dean Harbison set out yesterday on the longest firetruck ride of his life.

The fire chief from Cordova, Ala., drove out of Columbus late yesterday afternoon with a honk goodbye and a puff of exhaust, planning to arrive 10 hours later in the small Alabama city 35 miles northwest of Birmingham.

There, he and his lone passenger, a firefighter from his department, would alight from the truck and go to work in the condemned pharmacy that's been used as a firehouse since theirs was crushed by a pair of tornadoes in late April.

Their new truck was a gift from the Truro Township Fire Department, which worked with the Ohio Fire Chiefs' Association and that organization's Alabama counterpart to find out what equipment fire departments in the region need after tornadoes recently devastated the area.

The line of tornadoes that hit Southern and Eastern states from April 25 to 28 killed more than 300 people, more than 200 of them in Alabama.

"They had five of their trucks destroyed by the tornado, and I had a truck to give," said Chief Jerry Foltz of the Truro department, which serves Reynoldsburg and its surrounding area.

Township officials initially had tried to sell the fire engine, a 1985 model that was refurbished in the 1990s, but, even after lowering the asking price to $12,000 from $20,000, found no buyer.

"We had that truck on sale for a year and a half but didn't sell it," township Trustee Pat Mahaffey said. "At 26 years, we got a lot of use out of it and it served us well."

Harbison said the truck comes at a perfect time, when one of the two engines he has left is likely to be declared unusable because the roof is caving in. It's been a trying task to handle fires with few resources.

"We've been fortunate enough to be able to handle the situations, but it hasn't been easy," Harbison said. "We're used to having a seven-vehicle fleet. We're down to two."

The first tornado struck Cordova at 5:30 a.m. on April 27, an EF3-scale twister with winds of 140 mph that battered the city's core. Firefighters salvaged a few of their vehicles from their station and were taking a break from road cleanup when the skies turned black again.

The second storm spawned an EF4 tornado that whipped winds up to 170 mph and slashed a half-mile wide path through the city. Four people died, including a 10-year-old boy and his 12-year-old brother. The storm flattened the fire and police stations, erased historical landmarks, collapsed 75 homes and damaged hundreds more.

"It ruined just about everything," Harbison said.

Crews have yet to begin rebuilding the city of about 2,000, and fire crews are still trying to replenish what they lost. Departments throughout the country have helped, with another department in New England donating a truck.

Madison Township Fire Chief Clifford Mason, who helped organize the effort with the Ohio Fire and Emergency Services Foundation, said the donations are just another example of the brotherhood among firefighters.

"That's what the fire service does," Mason said. "The fire service is always helping people."

Copyright 2011 The Columbus Dispatch
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