RIVER FALLS — It’s tradition for firefighters to push new trucks into the station, a ceremony dating back to the era of horse-drawn equipment that had to be backed into the fire hall by hand.

That was the scene Feb. 1 when River Falls Fire Department held a welcoming ceremony for its new Engine 20.

Less than two hours after being pushed into the bay, the fire engine with its 1,000-gallon water tank and hundreds of mechanical horsepower left the station en route to a fatal house explosion on River Hills Road.

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Firefighters had returned home that night for a virtual business meeting over Zoom after a busy day that included the push-in ceremony and an event honoring the department’s 2020 Firefighter of the Year recipient, Division Chief Tom Foley told the Star-Observer. Then the house explosion call came through.

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“It performed as expected,” Foley said of Engine 20 and its inaugural run.

River Falls Fire Department's new Engine 20 is pictured Feb. 1, 2021, at the scene of a house explosion on River Hills Road. Photo courtesy of the city of River Falls
River Falls Fire Department's new Engine 20 is pictured Feb. 1, 2021, at the scene of a house explosion on River Hills Road. Photo courtesy of the city of River Falls

Extensive training conducted over summer 2020 also helped prepare firefighters to respond to the call, he added.

The cause of the explosion remained under investigation.

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Engine 20 replaced the department’s three-decades-old Engine 7, a 1989 Ford.

The city runs a 30-year replacement program for its large fire engines, according to Fire Chief Scott Nelson. Planning for Engine 20 started in May 2018 with the formation of a selection committee. Members would go on to spend 200-plus hours on research and deliberation, including meetings with vendors and other fire departments on the latest firefighting technology.

The city ultimately awarded the bid to Pierce Manufacturing, which had it built and delivered in 18 months.

“This new engine is equipped to help our members safely respond to emergencies more effectively,” Nelson said in a news release. “I appreciate the support of the city and citizens to provide equipment like this to help keep our firefighters and community safe.”

RFFD now has:

  • 3 engines
  • 2 water tankers
  • 1 ladder truck
  • 2 wildland brush trucks
  • 1 chief officer command vehicle
  • 1 utility terrain vehicle (UTV) with a water pump

City Council on Tuesday was scheduled to vote on a resolution to approve selling Engine 7 at auction.