Ron Baer drove his 1965 Seagrave firetruck across the country 25 years ago so it could be used to teach teens about firefighting.
With the local program defunct, and Baer no longer able to afford the “rich man’s toy,” the truck is returning to its first home in Rheems, Penn.
“I cried … I talked,” Baer said Monday. “This was hard to do.”
Spokane Fire Department Chief Bobby Williams empathized. “It’s like pushing the kids out into the world.”
The men share a connection to the red and white truck.
Baer won the truck in a $5-a-ticket raffle while living in Connecticut. His love of firefighting came in part from his nearly three decades as chaplain in a Chicago-area fire department.
When Baer moved west, he couldn’t really afford to store the truck, so he struck up a deal with Williams.
“I’m starting an Explorer Scout program, and if we could use your engine we wouldn’t have to take one of ours out of service for Explorer activities,” Williams told Baer in 1993. “I will also help you get it across the country by requesting the assistance of nine fire departments along your trip so you will have a free place to sleep and prevent vandalism to the engine.”
Baer drove about 200 miles each day. His manual-stick shift truck only went 55 mph.
Williams stored the truck at Station 10, where hundreds of youth with dreams of being a firefighter enrolled in the Explorer program. Teens learned about hose, ladder and fire rescue. The department maintained the old truck, doing regularly scheduled oil changes and, at one point, rebuilding the engine.
“I leased it to the city (fire department) for $1 per year,” Baer said jokingly. “I only got $1. They owe me $9.”
The Explorer program lasted 10 years at the Spokane Fire Department. Spokane County Fire District 10 used the truck for a couple of years in its young firefighter program.
“Directly or indirectly, hundreds of young people were given an experience that caused many of them to consider a career in firefighting,” said Baer, rattling off at least five who he knew about.
He told Williams: “It’s all because of you.”
The fire chief, who has led the department for 25 years, said when he looked at Baer’s truck he saw opportunity: “Boys and girls grow up saying they want to be a firefighter. This truck gave them a chance to see what it was like.”
When word spread on social media that the truck needed a new place to live, the firetruck’s original fire department contacted Baer and offered to pay for its return.
The flatbed pulled in front Fire State 11 on Spokane’s South Hill. Before loading the pristine firetruck, Baer offered Williams one last ride.