Chapter Thirteen: The Joke's on you


            One afternoon, Hose Company No. 2 was pulling its big yellow Snorkel firetruck into the Plaza parking lot, its large gold-colored frame glistening in the sunlight. Although instead of the expected grins of admiration, the truck seemed to draw puzzled looks from many of the people coming in and out of the Acme supermarket.

            Several of the firefighters, who had brought the truck over to the lot while work was being done on the Seventh Street fire house where the vehicle was normally parked, scratched their heads, wondering what was going on.

            Finally, one of the passers-by stopped.

            "Say," the man asked. "I thought you guys were Hose Company No. 2."

            "We are," said one of the firefighters sitting behind the wheel, his feet up, looking a little like a sunning turtle using the fire truck for a log.

            "Then why do you have that sign on the side of your truck?" the man asked, pointing to the sheet of cardboard someone had taped over the gold lettering on the passenger door.

            "What?" the driver said, and threw his legs down, dismounting from the machine so he could circle around and read for himself the sign the man pointed to.

            There, prominantly displayed, the sign said: "Hose Company Number One rules."

            Across the street, seated in front of the Plaza Fire House where Hose Company #1 housed its engine, other firefighters roared with laughter.

            The incident was typical of the sometimes fierce competition among the town's five firehouses. Local officials claim this competition is always "good, clean fun," and that it helps fire fighters work harder to do a better job when it comes to saving lives.

            But petty jealousies, and small slights sometimes created bad feelings among the firehouses, explaining perhaps why some members of competing fire houses failecd to show up for the wetdown for Hose Company #2's newest vehicle, an Aerial-Baker platform firetruck, some claim had become the jewel of the fire fleet.

            Controversy over the new firetruck began as soon as it was ordered two years ago, centering mainly on its unorthodox color scheme. Members of Hose Company No. 2 at the Seventh Street firehouse came under fire from other fire companies for ordering the wrong colors. The Baker-Aerial had been ordered with its cab top black rather than traditional white typical of other fire equipment in the town's fleet of vehicles.

            In an effort to soothe the ill feelings created by the friction, Mayor Anthony Just came to the wetdown dressed in a black bowler hat and a burgundy vest to match the colors of the fire engine.

            "There was some controversy about what color the truck should be," he said. "Some people in the fire department said the cab shouldn't be black. I think the black gives the truck a sleek look."

            Another objection came from some town council members and members of the public who said they had not been notified of the wetdown. One prominent Democrat was particularly vexed, saying that the public should have been made aware of the event.

            "The taxpayers of this town are being asked to pay almost $700,000 for a firetruck," he said. "They should have been allowed to come to the wetdown."

            Others said the first time they were even aware of the truck's arrival was when it was being driven to the wetdown, even though the truck had been in town for over a month.

            Notices of the wetdown, however, had been posted in all of the town's firehouses, and fire officials said it is up to the host company to decide whether or not to invite the public.

            Many local firefighters, however, did attend the event, along with representatives from North Arlington, East Rutherford, Wallington, Carlstadt, Cedar Grove and Englewood Cliffs. The out-of-town fire companies brought pumper fire trucks to the Panasonic parking lot as part of the longstanding wetdown ritual, in which firefighters baptize the new vehicle by spraying it with firehoses.

            Englewood Cliffs was the first company to arrive.



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