Behind the wheel of Engine 1

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Photo by KYLE MORGAN

I giggled like an old man possessed by the spirit of a little kid when Kyle Morgan asked if I wanted to take advantage of an opportunity for driver training with the Grayson Fire Department. “Driver training – does that mean actually drive a fire truck?” I wondered, so I shot Morgan, the city’s assistant fire chief, a note seeking clarification.

“I will put you right in the driver’s seat,” he replied. Any plans I might have otherwise had went right out the window, and my wife busted me repeatedly for watching the clock as I waited for the appointed hour. I promise I haven’t fantasized about driving a fire truck since I was a little boy, but I was instantly fascinated by the prospect.

At the same time, I was a bit terrified of trying this and doing badly. The guys at the fire station (any fire station) tend to enjoy a good foul up and find a way to make it part of your story from there on. I really did not want to be the guy who hit every cone, or managed to break a side mirror or otherwise damage the big truck.

We gathered in the parking lot at Kentucky Christian University and I was one of a dozen folks, including my neighbor and friend Tony Collier, as well as a uniformed Grayson Police officer and visiting fire fighters from other counties and fire districts.

When my turn came, I was more excited than nervous. Morgan was in the passenger seat to provide expert coaching and I just did my best to pay attention, and follow instructions. Make no mistake, it was challenging. With the help of a spotter and a coach in he cab, however, I did “pretty good for a first time driving a fire engine.”

Engine 1 is 31 feet long and weighs 41,000 pounds (your car weighs about 3,000 pounds, by comparison) with air brakes I would describe as “more than just a little touchy.” My score was an 85, with three five-point deductions from the 100 point possible total – two for scraping cones and another for missing a boundary/turn. That score would surely have been lower if I were flying solo. I have to note I had a LOT of help.

Instructor Adam Stapleton remained on the move as the drivers made their way through the cones, with challenges including a three-point turn, backing into a narrow corridor, driving forward and backward through a narrowing lane, and taking forward and backward slalom runs before bringing it home and putting the engine in park. He gave me a quick review of my run, checked the next form on his clipboard and chuckling as he set out to keep score for driver Breanna Buckner.

“Now I’ll watch and make sure she doesn’t brush any cones like you did,” he said with a smile. Morgan later added anyone interested in their own chance to participate in fire training and serve their community as a volunteer fire fighter is encouraged to get involved. “If you are looking to play a huge role in your community’s safety, learn a lot of good training and meet awesome people, then come and see if the fire department is for you.”

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Grayson Fire Chief Duane Suttles

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Grayson Police Officer Dean Ison checks his mirrors while working backwards through a slalom course.

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Volunteer Tony Collier checks his clearance.
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A dozen drivers tackled the course at KCU Tuesday evening.
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Instructor and evaluator Adam Stapleton kept a close eye on the action and scored each driver’s performance according to rigid guidelines.
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Instructor Kyle Morgan provided excellent navigation and guidance from the passenger seat.
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Drivers used a combination

 of mirrors and other methods to get Engine 1 through the prescribed course.

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Photos by TIM PRESTON

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