Public property, private gain? Not so with Green Machine, Warren says
The re-emergence of a legendary Warren fire truck long since retired from public service has generated a bit of attention in recent weeks, not all of it good. Still, fire fighters are staunchly defending the return, however brief, of their "Green Machine."
For about the past six weeks, Warren's former lime green 1973 Ward La France fire truck has been parked inside one of the truck bays at fire headquarters on Railroad Avenue, even though the truck is privately owned.
Several anonymous complaints sent to the Warren Times-Gazette this week called the town, and particularly Warren Town Council president Chris Stanley, to task for storing the privately owned truck on public property. But Warren's fire chief, and Mr. Stanley, said the complaints are inaccurate.
"Generally we don't let people store their personal stuff at the fire station," Chief Al Galinelli said. "But the guys needed to do some work; they were looking for a garage. I said,'Bring it in.'
Mr. Stanley said it should be gone by the end of next week.
For years, the Ward was Warren's front line fire responder and was used to fight some of the largest fires in the state's history, including the Station Nightclub fire in West Warwick. When it came time to sell the old truck about four years ago, the Warren Town Council asked for bids. The highest offer received was $5,000.
Warren's Central Fire Company "wanted to buy it, so the town turned around and sold it for a dollar," the chief said.
Besides being town council president, Mr. Stanley is a long-time member of the Central company, which like Warren's other fire companies is a private organization that provides its services to the Town of Warren.
An avowed fire nut and long-time volunteer, Mr. Stanley also owns another truck, a 1954 Mack he bought as surplus from Marblehead, Ma. After Warren's privately chartered fire company bought the Green Machine, Mr. Stanley offered to store it off and on at his house, which has a large lot. Being a highly visible house on Market Street, "everyone who drove by would see it," the chief said.
Be that as it may, "I do not own the 1973 Ward," Mr. Stanley said. "I have never owned the 1973 Ward La France."
The engine also moved around and was stored in several other places around town, mostly fire company members' property and properties belonging to councilors David Frerichs and Cathie Tattrie. This fall, company officials asked Chief Galinelli for permission to bring the truck to the central station for some restoration repairs, including the replacement of some gauges, wiring and lights.
Since most fire volunteers work during the day and aren't available to work on the truck until after darkness sets, Chief Galinelli said he allowed them to bring it inside temporarily, telling them that other, more involved work that needs to be done on the engine must be done offsite.
All the work done on town property was paid for by the volunteers themselves, he said — "there was no" town funding used on the project. At this point, company members are waiting for the mechanic they've hired to come and pick up the engine.
"This is an extraordinarily temporary situation," Mr. Stanley said.
As for using public resources for private gain, Mr. Stanley said that's not the case. Volunteers are the backbone of the department, he said.
"The Central Fire Company owns the 'Green Machine' and continues to operate and care for it because of its historic value," he wrote in e-mails to the Times . "Volunteerism is a labor of love and the "Green Machine" is a symbol of that commitment to the residents of Warren."