By Taylor Anderson, Assistant Editor explorebigsky.com
Sherwin Smith carpooled from Choteau, Mont. to Big Sky Tuesday morning with Teton County Fire Chief Joe Zahara.
He drove back home in a 1973 Ford Pierce fire engine.
With faded paint, two-wheel drive axels, 22,391 miles, and custom, open cab facing backward, the TCFR added another truck to its fleet thanks to a donation by the Big Sky Fire Department.
“This is phenomenal,” Smith repeated while looking over the truck.
The truck, which will be used to service fires in Pendroy, Mont. along the Rocky Mountain Front, fills a much-needed void in that county’s fire defense.
The previous engine in Pendroy had ‘blown up’, Zahara said, and that town would have had to wait for fellow county fire truck to come from miles away to help in the event of a structure fire.
Zahara said the Pendroy crew was waiting at the hand of Mother Nature and hoping there would be no fires, which there weren’t.
“We have help in Choteau, but we’ve been crossing our fingers” that there would be no fire, he said. “We’ve been going on a month, it was a very scary situation.”
Choteau is 23 miles from Pendroy, and the department would have relied on brush trucks until help could arrive.
Luckily that didn’t happen, and Pendroy’s missing link will be filled late Tuesday evening upon Smith’s arrival.
“The old girl probably drives just fine,” Smith said.
Though he hadn’t yet given it a test drive, Smith stood in the threatening rain Tuesday inspecting the truck.
Because of its older design, the truck holds 600 gallons of water, less water than newer models (at 1800 gallons), but enough to give the teams a fighting chance. It also has an open cab on the back, which is something new models don’t have.
“You don’t see those nowadays, and for good reason,” said Big Sky’s new fire chief, Bill Farhat. “This thing is four years older than I am,” the chief added.
Farhat said the engine was originally going to be donated to the Montana State University State Fire School, but went instead to Zahara’s crew due to lack of space at MSU’s facilities.
“[TCFD] has applied for a Fire Act Grant, and if they get a new one through the grant, they’ll donate it to the fire school,” Farhat said.
The new truck doesn’t have all the bells and whistles a new truck has, but Zahara and Smith are more than ecstatic about receiving it.
“These old one’s last forever, it sounds and runs like a kitten,” Zahara said.