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Louis Fenchel joined the Worthington (Ky.) Volunteer Fire Department at the age of 16. That’s a little too young to become a firefighter. And the fire department had to bend its age requirement to accommodate. But there were some other factors.
“This was in 1965. Vietnam was in full swing and there were few able-bodied men left in the area,” Fenchel said.
Along with firefighting, Fenchel learned other valuable skills – first aid, basic life support, search and rescue, pumps and hydraulics, emergency driving, ropes, knots and slings, ladders and their operations, flammable liquids and chemical hazards, fire inspection and arson investigation.
When he moved across town, he became a member of Middleton (Ky.) Volunteer Fire Department.
He learned so much he soon became a fire inspector.
He also worked as an automotive mechanic at a garage owned by the fire chief of the Middleton department.
“So when the alarm came, the chief went to the fire and I and the coworker ran next door to get the fire engine,” he said.
In 1978, Fenchel moved to Lancaster. He went to work for Duracell and married his wife, Roxanne.
Fenchel said in his early years in Kentucky he was referred to as the engineer, which meant he had to drive and pump.
“So, I suppose that is why I enjoy pumping water today,” he said.
That was what Fenchel and other antique fire truck owners from South Carolina and North Carolina were doing Saturday at the Fenchel’s Fox Lane home – pumping water.
Fenchel and his wife, Roxanne, hosted an open house for the Piedmont Area Antique Fire Truck Association, also known as the Rekindle Society.
Rekindle members held a business meeting and got a chance to show off their trucks. Several of the trucks parked beside a pond, pumped water from the pond and then sprayed it back into the pond. Members and their families strolled the pond banks, talked in groups or watched from lawn chairs.
It was obvious Fenchel was among his brethren as they also share his passion for antique fire trucks.
Travis Stafford of Spartanburg is counted in that group. Stafford, 23, is president of Rekindle. Like Fenchel, he developed a passion for firefighting and antique fire trucks early in life. Stafford’s father was a firefighter, too, and he would often accompany him to the fire station.
“I used to crawl all over the trucks when I was a baby,” he said.
Stafford started as a volunteer and is now a paid firefighter.
Rekindle is a chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America (SPAAMFAA), which was founded in 1958 by a group of people who wanted to preserve, restore and operate fire firefighting apparatus for heritage.
In 2000, Rocky Pollard, a firefighter from Spartanburg and SPAAMFAA member, wanted to start a local chapter. Pollard, Stafford, Tommy Pearson and Paul Sisk formed a local chapter in Spartanburg.
“North Carolina had a chapter but it sort of went to the wayside,” Stafford said.
The Spartanburg chapter met with the North Carolina chapter and formed the Piedmont Area Antique Fire Truck Association also know as the Rekindle Society.
There are more than 40 members from the Carolinas in the Rekindle Society. They attend events in both states. Some include King’s Mountain BBQ festival in North Carolina, Rusty Piston show in North Carolina, the S.C. Firefighters Association in Myrtle Beach, the Spartanburg Spring Fling in S.C., the Williamston Spring Water Festival in South Carolina and events at the S.C. Fire Academy.
The chapter also participates in parades and other events.
The event at the Fenchels’ house allowed antique fire truck aficionados a chance to display the trucks, put them to use and talk the shop.
Retired Boston firefighter Tom Hooker, who now lives in Marshville, N.C., was one of the Rekindle members at the event with his 1965 Seagrave. Hooker said the “Engine 3” fire truck was in service from 1965-1978 in Revere, Mass.
Bill Kruysman of Tega Cay brought a 1984 Pierce pumper.
Fenchel had his fleet seven motorized pieces and two trailer pumping units on display. His fleet includes 1923 Ahrens-Fox 1000-gallon per minute piston pumper, 1927 Larrabee/Buffalo, 1928 Ahrens-Fox Quad 600 GPM capacity pump, 1952 Ford/Midwest 500 GPM capacity pump, 1954 Ahrens-Fox Quad with 750 GPM capacity pump, 1956 Ahrens-Fox triple combination pumper with 750 GPM capacity pump, 1972 White 2500-gallon tanker and two civil defense pumping units.
Fenchel is partial to the 1927 Larrabee/Buffalo. There were no lights on the truck that was pulled by horses. There were two lanterns – one red and one white.
“The red one was for warning and the white one was so the horses could see,” he said.
Through the years, the Fenchels have hosted similar events. It had been about eight years since they had one.
Fenchel said he and Roxanne started collecting antique fire trucks as a family. They had a young son, Jonas, and they wanted to do something as family.
“We looked at Jonas and said here was a good kid. What can we do as a family to keep him from getting into bad stuff,” Roxanne said.
Jonas has been a part of the hobby ever since. Saturday the newlywed was helping his father man the fire truck gauges as the water sprayed in an arch above the pond.
Louis looked at his son and smiled.
“It was time well spent,” he said.