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Franklin Co. air unit gets by on thin funding

November 16, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - For the past couple of years, the home of the Franklin County Emergency Air Unit Co. 10 has been the driveway of Jim Warne's home on U.S. 11 north of Chambersburg.

When the weather turns cold, Warne puts a space heater in a compartment of the 1980 GMC Pierce Custom air unit truck to keep the compressor warm. The compressor itself is draped with a packing quilt to keep it from getting too cold.

"The compressor unit oil breaks down under 49 degrees," said Warne, the deputy chief of the air unit, which supplies filtered, compressed air for firefighters in Franklin and surrounding counties.

With the help of a $10,000 state grant, Warne has built a storage building on his property to house the truck. The grant covered about half the cost of the building and "the balance of it, I'm paying myself," he said.

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Air 10, as it is commonly called, shows up at just about every major fire in the area, the last being a Nov. 6 blaze that destroyed a 240-foot-by-80-foot chicken house on Keefer Road. Firefighters need airpacks when attacking a fire from inside a building or to get through choking smoke, and Air 10 fills them at the scene.

From 1982 to 2000, Air 10 responded to 645 emergency calls and 225 training drills, and filled 19,653 air bottles, according to figures compiled by Wayne Tanner, the chief since 1982. Since the newer truck was purchased from Washington County, Md., in 2001, it has run 373 emergency calls and 87 drills, and filled 6,638 air bottles, Tanner said.

Air 10 has been called to 38 emergencies this year, Warne said.

Warne said the unit once drove a converted bread truck with a 6-cylinder engine. The GMC, bought with $35,000 allocated by Franklin County, has a V-8 under the hood and a few more features, but it is still pretty Spartan.

The new unit Washington County bought cost $338,000, Tanner said.

Over the years, Air 10 has been housed in the diesel shop of the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, and the McKinley Street and Headquarters fire stations of the Chambersburg Fire Department. Warne said he intends to keep Air 10 at his property "until I'm dead."

After that, he would like the 20-foot-by-40-foot building to be willed to Co. 10, but that faces legal and bureaucratic hurdles, he said.

Air 10, which has 15 volunteer members, operates on a shoestring budget from the county of $4,000 a year to cover insurance and maintenance, Warne said. Fire companies make donations to keep the gas tank filled, but Warne said he and Tanner sometimes fill it up out of their own pockets.

Air 10 has relied on the county and state fire grants to keep the unit and its 28-year-old truck updated with new radio equipment, a compressor motor, turnout gear and a carbon monoxide motor.

Warne said he got involved with Air 10 in 1982. A volunteer with the Friendship Engine and Hose Co. No. 1 in Chambersburg, he was driving along U.S. 30 when he saw an earlier Air 10 unit broken down along the road and stopped to help Tanner.

The first air unit, designated Unit 28-4, was created in 1969 and was operated by Franklin County Civil Defense. In 1980, it was turned over to the Franklin County Fire Chief's Association, which purchased a newer unit with $30,000 in donations and grants. Company 10 was incorporated in 1982 with Tanner as its chief.

To help

For more information about Air 10 or to make a donation, call Wayne Tanner at 717-264-3229 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or write to Franklin County Fire Co. 10, 151 North Ave., Chambersburg, PA 17201.

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