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Mike Nowatzki, Published August 16 2009

Casselton Fire truck parade hits record goal

As a fire chief from a small North Dakota town, Rick Hansen has steered fire trucks through his fair share of parades.

“But not like this,” he said Saturday.

Hundreds of rain-soaked spectators cheered as Hansen piloted a Reynolds (N.D.) Fire Department tanker, its lights flashing and siren sounding, on a record run through this city.

Unofficially, 181 fire trucks took part in the special segment of the Cass County Summerfest parade. That would be enough to break the Guinness Book of World Records mark for largest parade of fire trucks, set in April 2006 in Switzerland with 159 trucks.

“We shattered it,” said Greg Kempel, the Casselton ambulance crew member and winery owner who led Saturday’s effort.

Organizers got a huge response after local media outlets reported Friday that the effort was still two trucks short of the record, Kempel said.

“We came up with 25 trucks in less than 24 hours,” he said.

A sign proclaiming “Record Breaker #160 – We Did It” hung from Hansen’s rig, although it was actually closer to No. 175 in the lineup. (Organizers needed a big truck to ride atop).

That didn’t seem to matter to onlookers – and neither did the rain, which failed to dampen spirits or drive away the crowd.

A giddy Tomas Friedrich of Moorhead donned a toy plastic fire chief’s helmet as the trucks rumbled past him on Langer Avenue.

“Dad, look, a white one!” the 5-year-old said.

“He likes the trucks better than the candy,” joked his father, Brian Friedrich, adding that it was the first time the family had attended the Casselton parade.

Richard Logan, 69, of West Fargo snapped digital photos of every truck – on both the driver and passenger sides.

Logan said he’s among a handful of “fire buffs” in North Dakota who travel the country photographing fire trucks in parades. He estimated his collection at 50,000 to 60,000 photos.

“So, we’ve been looking forward to this,” he said. “It’s amazing how far some of these have come.”

More than 80 fire departments from North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota contributed to the lineup, forming a river of red that winded more than a mile west of town before the parade.

They answered the call from as far away as Belle Fourche, just north of the South Dakota’s Black Hills, and Dover, Minn., just east of Rochester.

But perhaps no one traveled as far as Larry Cox, 55, a semi-retired school bus driver from Edmond, Okla.

Cox was in the area to pick up a firefighting/de-icing truck from Grand Forks, where it once was used at the Air Force base. He said he was at a Casselton truck stop early Saturday when several fire trucks rolled in, and he asked what was going on.

A few hours later, he was sitting in his gray Ford 8000 behemoth at the back of the fire truck lineup.

“I just wanted to be part of history,” he said.

The lineup was heavily populated with trucks from up and down the Red River Valley, from Pembina on the Canadian border to Hankinson just north of the South Dakota line.

And, as with most North Dakota parades, everyone seemed to know someone.

“Yeah, Inkster!” Sheyenne Seely of Amenia yelled to a truck from the tiny Walsh County town.

“You know where it is?” the driver said in disbelief.

“My grandpa lived there,” said Seely, who later explained that her brother also was a volunteer firefighter in Northwood, which also had trucks in the parade.

“I went to school in Staples (Minn.), and they went by,” said her husband, Chris Seely.

The couple said they attend the Casselton parade every year.

“It’s been amazing,” she said of the fire trucks, which spanned over a century in age. “This has been my favorite part.”

To comply with Guinness rules, organizers photographed every truck. Drivers had to sign a registration form, which had to be notarized by Summerfest chairman Ron Mueller.

The documentation will be sent to Guinness judges by overnight mail Monday, Kempel said, adding that organizers hope to have it verified as a world record soon.

He thanked everyone for the “huge team effort” to put the city in the record book.

“Think about all the people that took time to come and be a part of it. It’s that spirit of being in firefighting and that camaraderie,” he said. “And the smiles – if you would have seen the smiles on all those guys’ faces when we started out there, it was unbelievable.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528