SPENCER — It was a hot turnout this weekend when families and firefighters from across the state came to the N.C. Transportation Museum for a day of fire safety demonstrations, activities and train rides.
The Fire Truck Festival stretched across the museum’s property with a packed schedule of contests and tributes among the vendors and trucks out on display. For the indoor portion of the event at the Back Shop, the vintage collection of Paul Brown was on display, as was a Piedmont Airlines plane from 1931.
“This is something we spend all year planning with meetings,” said Director of Administration Marcus Neubacher. “We had 70 pre-registered fire trucks, both new and vintage, and a lot more will be coming out today.”
One of the painted fire trucks on display was for Pink Cares Piedmont, a nonprofit organization in High Point that honors and remembers individuals who are fighting or have fought breast cancer or other life-changing illnesses.
“We named this truck Hope after an amazing little girl who was diagnosed at 6 years old with metachromatic leukodystrophy,” said Chris McGee of the organization and volunteer at the Guil-Rand Fire Department in Archdale. “What I love so much about our trucks is because these are named and dedicated to honor who they’re named after, not a tribute or remembrance.”
The nonprofit has another pink fire truck named Debbie, named for a woman who has been a breast cancer survivor for 30 years. The other Pink Cares Piedmont fire truck was named Blake and helps raise awareness of autism.
“Whenever I attended events, there would be some children with autism,” McGee said. “They’re non-verbal, so you never know what could be going on in their head. I’ve seen them look at these trucks with wonders and always let them get in the seat, play with the hoses, all kinds of stuff. I want them to have that opportunity.”
McGee purchased a ladder truck and had it wrapped and transformed with puzzle pieces and a quote on the side: “Autism is not a disability, it’s a different ability.”
The organization named the truck after High Point artist Blake Henkel, 30, who has autism. His parents, Allen and Leann Henkel, wrapped the truck and are big supporters of nonprofits, according to McGee.
The trucks came from all across the state and had their doors open so youngsters could take a seat behind the wheel and get photos.
Right beside the line of fire trucks was the DJ stage, home of the Lil’ Mr. and Ms. Firefighter costume contest, the tribute flag raising and fire truck awards.
Ashley Baker, 7, was named one of the Little Ms. Firefighters.
“I feel pretty good,” she said. “Maybe I’ll do this one day, but I did it because my daddy is a firefighter.”
Her father serves with the Northwest Harnett Fire Department of Harnett County.
Train rides were available throughout the day and events wrapped up with the fire truck awards and a parade to showcase firefighters, trucks and costume contest winners.
“We are very appreciative of all the fire departments and volunteers who came out today,” said Director and Chief Operating Officer Kelly Alexander. “Without them, this couldn’t have happened. We’ve also been blessed with this weather.”
A light breeze offset the sun, and plenty of water and food was available from the vendors.
Saturday’s event concluded with the fire truck contest awards. Mount Pleasant Fire Department took first place, followed by Spencer Fire Department second and Fair Grove Fire Department third.
“COVID really caused the numbers to go down, but the turnout of the community and all the departments involved today has been great,” Spencer Fire Chief Michael Lanning said. “We’re starting to build back up.”
Lanning said the festival means a lot because it brings together departments from across the state to educate the community.
“Firefighting is a career that communities by large appreciate,” said McGee, who retired from his career of 30 years in 2020 but still volunteers. “Whenever someone tells me they’re interested in the field, I tell them to just go for it. I made it my career after volunteering for seven months in 1990 and I plan to do it for as long as I possibly can.”
This year marks the seventh annual Fire Truck Festival. For more information on events at the N.C. Transportation Museum, go to www.nctransportationmuseum.org/events/