Small Utah town gets first new fire truck after 40 years

Oct 25, 2022, 7:18 PM | Updated: Oct 26, 2022, 10:45 am

TERRA, Utah — It’s the kind of place that wouldn’t need much ink if you were drawing a map. For Gerry Neil, though, this tiny dot of a town in southern Tooele County is home.

“We’re just a small community,” he said. “There are only about 30 families who live here, but we all know each other.”

Terra gave him the kind of peace he wasn’t sure existed after Vietnam. It’s also where he found his calling.

“It’s an inherent desire to help other people,” he said. “I don’t know how to put it any other way.”

Neil has been fire chief here for 43 years, ever since the start of the department he helped create.

“I found a need, so we just did it,” he said.

In all that time, he thought he had seen it all, until last month when he saw something new he never imagined he would see in Terra.

“Oh, I’m grateful. I can’t tell you how grateful I am,” Neil said.

He’s talking about Brush 81, a new truck that was converted into a fire truck and given to the department.

It is the first new truck the Terra Fire Department has ever owned.

After decades of hand-me-downs, it was almost too good to be true.

“Everything works good,” Neil said with a laugh.

Tooele County Fire Warden Dan Walton helped get the truck.

“It’s been a goal of mine ever since I got this job,” Walton said.

Under the Utah Cooperative Wildfire System, which passed a few years ago, cities and counties can offset wildfire costs to the state if those cities and counties help with wildfire preparedness and prevention efforts.

Because of the work being done in Tooele County, Walton was able to purchase this new truck and equip it with firefighting and medical gear for almost $100,000. 

“We didn’t purchase it. It was grant money. This was fully funded by Tooele County,” Walton said.

Since he knew Terra had a bunch of old trucks, he figured it was time to give the department something reliable. 

“We used to have a rule of when you leave the station, you left that truck running until you get back because if you turned it off, you don’t know if it’s going to start back up again,” Walton said with a laugh. “There has always been a concern with how reliable their vehicles were and these are some of the proudest and hardest working firefighters we have in the county, so we wanted to give back to them because they have given us so much.”

Even though Terra is remote and its boundaries are small, the department helps with calls over a large area. A lot of people visit the surrounding open land and mountains to off-road, explore, and even hunt. Sometimes, that leads to brush fires, crashes, and medical calls.

“Tooele County is pretty much Salt Lake’s playground. Everybody comes out here to camp and to recreate,” Walton said. “We also have a large military operation just down the road. That creates a lot of commuting traffic.”

When help is needed, Terra Fire Department volunteers respond.

One time, Neil even left a family weekend at Bear Lake because there was a big call where the Terra Fire Department was needed.

“A lot of people depend on us and I like that feeling,” Neil said. “I want them to know that there is somebody local that knows right where they’re at that can come and help them with whatever situation.”

It may be just a truck, but for those like Neil who understand the calling and sense of duty of firefighting, the glistening vehicle with a dependable starter is so much more.

“It’s to help so we can get the job done,” he said. “We will keep it as nice as we can for as long as we can.”

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Small Utah town gets first new fire truck after 40 years