A Johnson City fire truck in a parade in downtown Johnson City.
For as long as anyone can remember, the Johnson City Fire Department has rolled out at least one of its bright red fire engines along city streets during various parades, complete with nerve-rattling horn bursts and waving firefighters.
But a concern for safety, not expense, has ended that tradition, Chief Mark Scott said Thursday.
Scott is abiding by “Murphy’s Law,” which proclaims that if something can go wrong, it will. He said that the engines, being as bulky and heavy as they are, just don’t make for a good mix when hundreds of children may be edging ever closer to get a peek. Though there have been no incidents in the past, Scott says it’s just a matter of time, and he doesn’t want to take the chance.
“The big thing is our commitment to provide service to the community,” he said. “The decision was made before last year’s Christmas parade, and there are two basic reasons. First, is the safety of the public. The second reason is the response time we need to get to an emergency. When we take an engine out to a parade, it’s not ready to respond.”
Scott said the vehicles are just under the minimum width needed to fit on most city streets and that drivers need to be able to have a 360-degree view, which is not possible at a parade.
“We don’t want a vehicle in motion at a parade,” he said. “We love for children to get near and to learn about the fire engines, but we do this at one of our stations. We have people call all the time asking if we can do educational events. We have nine zones, and we keep a certain number of engines in those zones when there is not an emergency.
“Doing this would not be taking an engine out of service. During a parade, people are lined up on both sides of the streets. If you’re trying to get out of there, people may not understand what you’re trying to do.”
Scott said he has never driven a fire engine at a parade.
As far back as 1890, the city sported horse-drawn fire wagons during various events and celebrations. That was before firefighters had uniforms. Through the 1920s and 1930s, fire and police departments from here and from neighboring towns polished up their buggies, which are primitive by today’s standards, and chugged along streets on their own accord, without traditional Fourth of July or Christmas Day, Santa-toting protocol.