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Palos Fire District to Christen New Engine, Ambulance

The public is invited to witness a tradition that originated in the 1800s.

Palos Fire Protection District Chief Patrick Gericke wants to keep a special tradition alive. 

On Saturday, March 29 residents are invited to witness a long-standing ritual of the fire service: a "wet-down" of the company's new fire Truck 6304 and Ambulance 6302.

"These ceremonies are old-time fire department traditions that are not seen much with today's modern fire service, but this is a big deal for our district and residents," Gericke said in an email. 

During the ceremony from 10 to 11 a.m., the department's new rigs are sprayed down with water from the retiring pumper's tank. The ceremony will be held at Palos Fire Prot. District, 8815 W. 123rd St.

The History of the 'Wet-Down'

The ritual dates back to the late 1800’s, when horse- drawn pumpers were used 
throughout the nation’s fire service. Horses that were commissioned for service would be washed along with the pumper at their newly assigned firehouse and backed into the firehouse bay. The firefighters would then fit the new horse with its  harness placing the company in service. After every run, firefighters had to hand push their pumpers back into the bay and ready themselves for the next alarm. 

Fiscal constraints forced some towns to have their fire department horses perform double-duty by requiring them to pull wagons of garbage to the local dump. When the horse was not in service at the firehouse, it was working for the town’s sanitation company hauling trash. At the end of their shift, the horse would have to be washed and fed before being stowed in the firehouse bay. When new horses or pumpers were purchased  neighboring firehouses, department chiefs, and citizens from the surrounding community would attend the ceremony to celebrate the new powerful addition to their neighborhood firehouse. Local clergy came to bestow blessings upon the horse throwing holy water unto it for 
long life, strength, speed and good health. The blessing would serve to ward off any evil spirits or “gremlins” that could affect the firehouse’s newest addition. 

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