LIVE OAK — When he arrived at Suwannee County Fire Rescue’s Station 1 last week, doubt started to creep into Ricky Gamble’s mind.
The chairman of the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners wasn’t so sure about trying to help push the fire department’s newest engine into the station during a “push in” ceremony Nov. 18.
“It was the first one I’ve been to and they did have me a little worried,” Gamble recalled later that day at the county commission meeting. “We got there and you have this huge fire truck and they have it parked on an incline.
“That’s what I get for being a literal thinker because I thought we were really going to push that joker.”
He had no reason to worry.
The pushing was ceremonial only.
Gamble, fellow commissioners Ronnie Richardson and Len Stapleton, as well as SCFR personnel and officers and other county officials “pushed” Engine 1 into the station — it was backed in by a firefighter as they touched the truck — to signal it being placed into service.
Similar ceremonies were held Nov. 19 at Station 4 in Dowling Park and Thursday at Station 5 in Wellborn.
“It was a good ceremony,” Gamble said. “It was a good tradition to start.”
It is a tradition that dates back to the horse-drawn era of firefighting when horses couldn’t back-up the engines into the station, so the firefighters would have to unhitch the horses and push in the engines after returning from a fire.
“Over the years, it has become a tradition in the fire service for new apparatus when they are placed in service to be pushed in for the first time,” said Eddie Hand, the interim fire chief and public safety director. “It was something Chief (James) Sommers was wanting to start with our department and something I definitely want to continue on for years to come in his honor.”
Engine 1 was dedicated in Sommers’ memory. The former public safety director died in a motorcycle crash in August. He spent the majority of his career at Station 1.
The engines dedicated in Dowling Park and Wellborn were also honoring members of the SCFR family. Lt. Joe Buhler, who passed away in 2017, spent his entire career working at Station 4. Phil Oxendine, a former county commissioner and a part-time fire inspector for SCFR, was a strong supporter of building Station 5 in Wellborn. Oxendine died in 2018.
Hand said the new trucks were part of Sommers’ vision for the future of the department, including helping to design them.
“The first time in my 21-year career that we’ve been able to design a truck from the bottom up and make it exactly what we wanted,” Hand said, thanking the county commissioners and county residents for their support.
“It’s a very big honor to receive equipment that looks like this and operates like this and not to have to worry about is it going to make it to the next call.”
Gamble added: “I speak on behalf of the board when I say we’re glad they’re here and we hope they serve you well.”