TAKE A LOOK — Port Neches Fire Department restores piece of history dating back decades

Published 12:38 am Wednesday, June 28, 2023

PORT NECHES — A piece of Port Neches Fire Department history sits outside the station on Magnolia Avenue, a labor of love.

The 1943 model fire hose handcart is back to its original glory thanks to the work of the department’s B shift. Metal plaques at the front and rear of the cart were made and donated by Port Neches-Groves High School’s machine shop students.

Chief Eloy Vega said the cart was discovered by a member of the Port Neches Police Department at the site of the former fire station, which is now vacant.

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The cart was rusty and looked to be in somewhat despair. The shift members got together and refurbishment was done a little bit at a time and took a lot of elbow grease, Vega said.

Acting Fire Capt. Gerald Finley, who is part of the group of firefighters who worked on the cart, said it took a little bit of thought as to how they wanted to approach the project. They could have tried to find someone to restore it or do it themselves.

The decision was made to do the work themselves, thus restoring some of the department’s history and taking ownership in the project.

The firefighters continued to work on the project not really knowing the background of the piece of early fire fighting equipment, that is until they posted photos of the progress on Facebook, he said.

“A member of the community reached out and provided some insight as to the origin because we didn’t know where it came from,” Vega said. “It turns out that this piece of equipment was donated to the Port Neches Fire Department.”

The handcart was used during the World War II era at Neches Butane Products Company. After the war, the company went through changes and the handcart was donated to PNFD.

A part of the former Neches Butane facility is now TPC Group, just around the corner from the fire department.

The intent was to refurbish the cart and perhaps use it in parades.

“It’s sort of a testament to the public safety efforts in the area and heritage,” Vega said. “Not only that, but I think it speaks volumes to the cooperation and collaboration that our department has with industry and it goes back almost 100 years.”

The cart is a symbol of the fire department’s history and the commitment of the firefighters, he said.

What is a fire hose handcart?

A fire hose handcart is just what the name suggests — a two-wheeled cart that holds a fire hose.

Vega explained that the roads in the refinery are small and it was likely easier to get a handcart to the scene.

One firefighter would be on each side of the cart and they would run with it like a rickshaw until they reached the closest fire hydrant, unroll the hose, connect to the hydrant and started flowing water.

“It was very nimble, very light and did the job,” Vega said, adding there was room for firefighting tools.

The team

Firefighters that worked on the project include Finley, Spencer Singleton and Chad Carpenter.

Assistant Chief Tyler Hebert said research and talking to a retired assistant chief put into motion the idea to restore the cart.

From there the cart is looked at as part of the department’s legacy.

Vega called it a labor of love undertaken by the firefighters. He saw they enjoyed what they were doing and believed in what they were doing.

“And that makes me proud, not only as chief, but as a firefighter,” Vega said. “To see them take that on. The passion to keep the tradition alive, to keep that heritage alive because the older generations have taught us a lot and paved the road for us. It’s a reminder for us to do the same for future generations.”

A post on the department’s Facebook page talks of the project and its meaning.

“As our members preserve this equipment, we reflect on all of our past members who have contributed to this department. Their legacy, traditions, and memories live on through the current years. The Port Neches Fire Department. Past. Present. Forever,” the post reads.

You can see the antique handcart next to a large 1970s era fire extinguisher outside the fire station at 606 Magnolia Avenue in Port Neches.