Rochester fire vehicle arrives as gift to storm-torn Cayce, Ky.

Jan 13, 2022

A Rochester Fire Department vehicle has arrived safely to its most recent call, a new home more than 1,200 miles away.

The vehicle has completed its journey to Cayce, Ky., which was devastated by a tornado in December that destroyed the fire station and its equipment. 

The 3,000-gallon tanker, which both stores and pumps water, was donated by the Rochester Fire Department to help its Cayce counterparts rebuild. 

When the department heard of the challenges faced by Cayce, Chief Scott Wiegel immediately thought of the department’s spare tanker. With support from the Select Board, the truck was approved to be sent to help Cayce department rebuild.

The vehicle left town Monday, Jan. 10. The two-day journey, with 18 hours of travel time, ended Tuesday, Jan. 11 in Cayce, Ky.

Representatives of RYCO Excavation in Middleboro offered to transport the vehicle to its new home.

The company selected a very fitting driver to make the long haul: One of their employees, Jim Wiksten, who served for 35 years in the Middleboro Fire Department and retired 11 years ago as a captain.

Wiksten said he was happy to answer the call when the company suggested he make the drive.  

“That’s what you do as a firefighter, helping people,’’ he said. “It’s in your blood.’’

He drove a truck that was attached to a low-bed trailer that carried the fire vehicle. 

He was escorted by Massachusetts State Police from Rochester to the New York state line. 

“From there on, I was on my own,’’ Wiksten said with a chuckle.

During the trip, which took 18 hours over two days, the sight of a Massachusetts fire truck hundreds of miles from its home base drew some curious looks and questions on the CB radio and when he pulled over for breaks, Wiksten said. 

But as he explained the story behind the journey, he said he received positive feedback.

He also received a warm welcome when he arrived in Cayce. 

“The guys there were happy to see it,’’ he said. “They were excited to get it there.’’

Members of the Kentucky town’s all-volunteer fire department added the needed gear, which was donated from well-wishers in Pittsburgh, then filled it with water, Cayce Fire Chief Wade Adams said.

And now the truck is ready to answer the call. “It’s in service right now,’’ Adams said.

The truck is being kept at a workshop at one of the area’s farms, the chief said, because the station was destroyed. The vacant site of the former station is now being used as a staging area for restoration work. 

The Cayce chief said he greatly appreciates the gift, but hopes he doesn’t have to use it anytime soon.

“I’ll be really happy if we don’t have anything for a month or two,’’ he said. 

There will be plenty to keep them busy as they work to rebuild their community.

The retired Middleboro firefighter said he was amazed at what he saw when he arrived at the storm-ravaged community.

“The devastation is beyond belief,’’ Wiksten said. “They’re trying to pick up the pieces.’’

The clean-up continues, Adams said. The department recently hosted its first meeting since the tornado hit, he said, to provide a “crash course’’ on what needs to be done. 

“It’s an adjustment,’’ he said.

The chief said the town has seen progress. Everyone in the community has a safe place to live, Adams said, although perhaps not in circumstances they would prefer. 

Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency have told the department their efforts are on track, which he said lifts their spirits. 

But serious work lies ahead.

“There’s so much more to do,’’ Wiksten said. “It takes a special group of people to do that, no doubt.’’

Seeing the devastation reminded Wiksten of how quickly a person’s life can change. “They really need all the help they can get down there.’’