Fighting fires in his honor
It was a long-awaited day for Company 3 to gather for a dedication ceremony to put its new ladder truck into service.
Shepherdstown Fire Department’s EMS Chief Marshall DeMeritt, who served as master of ceremonies at Sunday afternoon’s event, said the process took nearly two years. During that time, members of the truck committee met continuously to design the 2017 Pierce Manufacturing Arrow XT that now fills the bay at the department.
The committee designed and approved every inch of the new piece of equipment, with a former fire chief in mind, DeMeritt said. Members of the committee included Andy Tarbell, Jim “Gator” Locke, Jim Schmitt, Daniel Henderson, Brian Fluharty, Zac Morgan and Tim Seibel.
The members, during the process of ordering and outfitting the truck, made the decision to dedicate it to the late D. Lee Morgan, who had served as fire chief of the company for 40 years. As part of the honor, a plaque was affixed to the truck with a photo of Morgan, stating, “Dedicated in Memory of Chief D. Lee Morgan / For 40 years of Faithful Service / as Fire Chief with the Shepherdstown Fire Department / 1958-1998.”
The plaque, covered at the beginning of the presentation, was unveiled by Morgan’s widow, MaryAnn Morgan, and his children, D.L. Morgan, Holly Morgan-Frye and Ross Morgan, who currently serves as the station’s fire chief.
Michael Athey, resident historian and a 60-year member of Company 3, shared with those gathered that Lee Morgan “almost single-handedly got us going.” He explained how Morgan facilitated training for members, even when there was no formal training available.
“It was in 1957 – on his own, he started training classes,” Athey said of Morgan.
“You showed up. I was one of those rookies that year,” he said. “We set Friday evenings and Sundays to meet, and that didn’t make many wives or girlfriends happy, especially those Friday nights.”
Athey said that at the December 1959 meeting, Morgan was elected chief, a position he held for 40 years.
Always looking to improve and serve, Morgan recommended in 1989 that the company buy a ladder truck.
“There was almost no support,” Athey said. “We were $600,000 in debt for the building and a truck would be $300,000, and that we couldn’t afford.”
According to Athey, a month later, Morgan said he had done some research; he said that a ladder truck would lower insurance rates in town and that Martinsburg had one to sell for only $25,000.
“Lee had already arranged for $10,000 in private donations, so we bought the truck for $26,001,” Athey said.
The truck that the company put into service last week came with a much higher price tag: The total cost came in at $963,000. To help pay for the truck, the company, under the guidance of member Daniel Henderson, applied for and secured a grant from FEMA for $785,000.
Henderson explained that the grant process required bids and that Pierce Manufacturing in Wisconsin met all of the criteria. Members of the department traveled to Wisconsin during the design and fitting of the truck and Pierce sent representatives to Shepherdstown for training for drivers, Henderson said. Approximately 15 to 20 members are able to drive the new truck.
The old truck, Henderson said, was officially taken out of service Sunday and will be sold another company.
DeMeritt told the crowd the story of how firefighters of old used a steam engine pulled by horses to fight fires. After using the engine, the members would then wash it and push it into the station once clean. That practice has become a tradition when putting a new piece of equipment into service; the new truck was sprayed and wiped down by the membership before being pushed into the bay.
“This was about 75,000 pounds,” DeMeritt said. “It’s another example of needing our community’s help.” He said it took many others joining in to get the new truck pushed into its spot inside the station.
Current Chief Ross Morgan was brought to tears as he spoke to the crowd.
“Dad always wanted a ladder truck here,” Morgan said. “He had a fear of something happening at Shepherd College or downtown.”
Morgan added that it was an honor to dedicate this truck to his father.
“I am honored to follow in his footsteps,” Morgan said. “I can only follow in them, I can never fill them.”