The City of Newton and the Newton Fire Department recently held dedication ceremonies for their new Engine 2 and Medic 1. These ceremonies are an important tradition in the fire service, similar to how the armed forces have their traditions. The fire service values and respects its long-standing customs, from the iconic bagpipe music to the ceremonial push-in of the fire truck. Fire departments across North America have celebrated the arrival of new vehicles with pride for more than a hundred years. In recent times, the push-in ceremony has become more popular. Since fire trucks and ambulances are significant investments for communities, the push-in ceremony brings people together to witness their tax money being well-spent in a formal event.
In the 17th century, early fire engines, ladder wagons, and other equipment had to be manually pushed back into the station after each call. In the 18th century, horse-drawn steam engines were introduced, which could be backed up. However, aligning the engine's steam connections with the station's steam connections was challenging due to controlling the horses. As a result, the horses were usually disconnected, and the engine was pushed back into the station by hand. After fighting fires, the firefighters would clean the horses and equipment, preparing them for the next call. Even when the first motorized fire engine was introduced in the early 19th century, the firefighters continued the tradition of the push-in ceremony, which became a way to commemorate each new purchase of fire apparatus along with a wet down ceremony. Today, this symbolizes the importance of water in firefighting and reminds firefighters of their commitment to protecting the community.
Modern fire trucks are much larger than those used centuries ago, physically pushing them into the station impractical. However, breaking tradition is not an option, so fire departments have found creative solutions. Some departments have modified their push-in ceremonies by having one crew member back the unit into the station while the rest of the firefighters walk alongside the fire truck in their uniforms. The modification simulates the act of pushing in and continues to honor the symbol of dedication and unity that has been important to fire departments for hundreds of years.
Before the truck is "pushed in," the fire chief usually gives a speech, and the fire chaplain provides a blessing. The ceremony connects the community with the critical work of the fire service but also sparks interest in future generations of firefighters. The dedication concludes with a public radio transmission announcing the availability of the new unit for service. Modern push-in ceremonies often include complimentary snacks, refreshments, and various enjoyable activities. A community wet down is also a significant part of most push-in ceremonies. In our recent ceremony, Bagpiper Ron Husted performed traditional bagpipe music. Fire Chaplain Beau Church offered a blessing focused on the new equipment and the firefighters/paramedics who will use it to provide safety services to Newton's residents and visitors.