Most kids are enthralled by fire trucks.

Turns out, many adults are, too.

A large crowd ventured out Saturday afternoon to celebrate the 150th birthday of the Abilene Fire Department (AFD).

The celebration began with a fire apparatus parade, featuring 30 to 35 trucks from Abilene, other Dickinson County communities, and outlying cities, including Salina, Junction City, Fort Riley and others. Nearly all were running with lights and sirens during the parade.

Other events included a bell ringing ceremony, signaling the traditional significance of the bell to call firemen, and the formal unveiling of Abilene’s newest fire truck, Engine No. 34, named in honor of the 34th President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower from Kansas, the 34th state.

The sides of the new truck are emblazoned with the motto, “Protecting Ike’s Hometown.”

AFD representatives picked up the new unit just two weeks ago to replace a 22 year-old engine. The new truck will likely “be in service” in the next week or so, said Abilene Fire Chief Bob Sims.

He was happy to see the “great turnout” and said that back in the old days, it was not uncommon to have parades of fire equipment.

“But I don’t think we’ll see another one here for another 150 years,” Sims said.

After the parade, a festive crowd gathered in the 400 block of Broadway in front of the fire department. There, they looked at the display of fire trucks from all over and enjoyed some refreshments at the fire station as part of the open house.

Some youngsters and their families checked out the fire safety trailer brought by Fort Riley’s Fire Emergency Services.

After the parade, 9-year-old Cole Breeden of Abilene said it was “really neat.” His mother, Adrienne Russell-Pestinger, agreed, noting she was impressed by the number of trucks that came from all over.

Tucked among the out-of-town trucks, Junction City Fire Chief Terry Johnson visited with Eric Ward from the Kansas Forest Service in Manhattan and Dickinson County Fire District No. 1 Chief Paul Froelich of Enterprise.

Johnson and Ward were impressed by the quality of equipment brought in, commenting on the amount of work needed to keep the units well maintained.

Froelich said Abilene was one of the first cities around to offer fire protection and the first to run rural fire defense.

Bell ceremony

Abilene volunteer firefighter Jason DeMars, who also serves as captain of the Fort Riley Fire Department, conducted the bell ceremony, explaining that much of what fire departments do is steeped in tradition.

“In the past, as firefighters began their tour of duty, the bell signaled the beginning of the day’s shift. Throughout the day and night, each alarm was sounded by a bell,” DeMars said.

To commemorate that, new engine No. 34 has a bell on its front bumper.

“These bells would summon the brave souls to fight the fire and place their lives in jeopardy for the good of their fellow citizens,” DeMars continued. “When the fire was out and the alarm had come to an end, it was the bell that signaled the completion of that call.”

A special signal of three rings — rung three times each, represents the end of duty and returning to quarters, DeMars explained as he rang the bell.

“To those who have selfishly given their lives for the good of their fellow man, their task completed, their duties well done. To our comrades, their last alarm. They are going home.”

AFD also observed the tradition of pushing the fire truck into the station, dating back to the days when horses pulled pumpers to fires.

After returning to the station, the horse was unhooked and the firemen pushed the apparatus back in.

“Horses didn’t have reverse,” explained Abilene Firefighter Kirk Gable. “Traditions come and go, but fire service is one of those things that if we started this way, it’s the way we continue to do things.”

Gable asked all Abilene firefighters to join in pushing Engine 34 into the station, but noted the truck was heavy and they were not actually going to push it uphill.

“It will be the art of the tradition,” Gable said.

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