By Dave Rogers
AMESBURY — Local firefighters Sunday sliced open an old car, rappelled down a ladder truck and set a small house "on fire," all within a few yards of each other outside the School Street fire station. Thankfully, none of the situations meant there was something terribly wrong. Instead, it was a chance for firefighters to demonstrate many of the skills they use on a daily basis during their open house.
Hundreds of people took advantage of the perfect fall day and enjoyed free Papa Gino's Pizza, Cider Hill doughnuts and a chance to sit behind the wheel of a fire engine.
"This is awesome, we couldn't ask for a better day," Amesbury fire Chief Jonathan Brickett said.
The annual open house, which takes place in October to coincide with National Fire Safety Month, is part of a broader community relations campaign to encourage families to learn about fire safety.
This year's open house, the 17th annual version, was organized by the department's new Safety Awareness Fire Education coordinator Jerry Morrill.
Morrill took over the S.A.F.E. coordinator post from his older brother, Ozzie Morrill, who retired from the department in July.
"I think we're doing very well," Morrill said moments after exiting from the department's SAFE house, a miniature house placed on the back of a trailer. The house allows kids and grown-ups a chance to see what happens when smoke fills a room and the difficulties that come with trying to exit safely.
Morrill said the trailer is an effective way to speak to children and their parents about the importance of fire safety, the dangers inherent in kitchens and how to safely use candles.
"With this unit, we bring it all together, we make it happen," Morrill said.
A few yards away from the trailer, kids were seem climbing on the back of a fire engine and pretending they were racing to the scene of a fire. Also on hand was an abandoned Toyota sedan donated by Newburyport Towing that at roughly 2 p.m. was cut into pieces by an extraction tool.
Brickett said the main goal of the open house is to show the community what the department has to offer. The event, he said, continues to grow with more sponsors and greater numbers of attendees.
Joining the fire department this year at the open house were members of the Amesbury Rotary, Liberty Mutual employees, Cider Hill Farm's Karen Cook and fire and water clean-up company Servpro Industries Inc.
"It seems like we get more and more participation from the residents and businesses from Amesbury," Brickett said.
Another new feature this year was the appearance of the Essex County Technical Rescue Team.
Demonstrating how a tripod is used for a confined space rescue was Clinton Hatch. At one point, Hatch placed two teddy bears, Cody and Copper, under the care of Cashman Elementary student Derek Chase of Amesbury in a small basket and winched them skyward.
Once finished with the demonstration, Hatch said jokingly he'd like to keep the teddy bears. That prompting Chase to say he needed the bears back because he was entrusted with their care for a whole week as part of the Lion's Mouth Road school's "Super kid" program.
After a moment of well-timed hesitation, Hatch relented and gave Cody and Copper back to Derek.