Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Chief Lewis T. Craig, Sr. lives on in Porter memorial garden and fire engine

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By LILY REX

The Porter Fire Department dedicated the Lewis T. Craig Sr. Heroes Memorial Garden and welcomed its new fire engine Sunday. Fire Chief Jay Craig opened the event with a tribute to his father, the late Porter Fire Chief of 45 years, Lewis T. Craig Sr.: “Without his years of service, we wouldn’t be standing here today.”

Craig said the late great Chief went by many namesÑincluding Lewis. Lewie, Chief, and Papa, but “out of all those names, the one he was most proud of was ‘Chief.’”

The Chief wanted to complete a memorial garden at the Fire Department and see through the Department’s purchase of a new engine before he retired, but his health precluded him from doing so, Craig said. Chief Lewis T. Craig Sr. died shortly after he retired Jan. 8, 2018.

After improvements to the garden and flagpoles on the Fire Department’s north lawn last year, the Porter Town Council passed an ordinance naming the space after the late Chief. Council President Greg Stinson read that ordinance for the crowd Sunday and presented a framed copy to Carol Craig, the late Chief’s wife. The crowd then gathered outside to watch the Porter Firefighters raise five flags--the American flag, the Indiana flag, the PFD flag, the Armed Services flag, and the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag.

Porter Deputy Fire Chief Dan Branham said the late Chief began his career of service in the Vietnam War as a member of the U.S. Army. He began serving Porter and its surrounding communities in 1973, while he was raising a family and working at Bethlehem Steel, and went on to be an EMS worker, a Porter Police Officer, and Animal Control Officer before retiring as Fire Chief. Branham said the Chief spent as much time at the PFD as he did in the house he paid for, and the Department has plans to make the Garden even better in his name, including adding statues and connecting it to the bike path.

Tributes to the Chief don’t stop there. A famous quote of his, “901 En Route!” is etched onto a bell on the front of the Department’s new engine that the Town bought with a combination of Fire Department funds and the proceeds of a general obligation (GO) bond last year.

The new engine is replacing the current Engine 911, a 1988 model acquired under former Chief Raymond Wesley in 1988, Craig said. The Porter Fire Department’s motto “Always Forward” is painted in gold letters above the rear window of the engine’s cab on either side.

PFD Captain Marc Piazza explained the depth of the motto: “There’s a lot more behind that than just a battle cry,” he said. “It defines who we are.”

Piazza said firefighters elect to become something larger than themselves when they begin their service--they accept the costs that come with the rewards of the job and commit to always run forth toward danger. “We know it is worth it to help people when they need us most, and that is why we keep going: always forward,” Piazza said.

In keeping with other Porter traditions, the new engine is colored white over red with a double white strip and has a top-mounted pump, offering the operator a safe place to stand and enhanced view of emergency scenes, according to Craig.

Craig said retiring Engine 911’s memory will live on. “It is the first engine I ever drove, the engine I rode to my first fire, and the engine that took Chief and Safety Officer James Branham on their last calls,” he said. “Those memories will be cherished forever.”

New Engine 911 is a Spartan chassis with a box custom-built and outfitted by Alexis Fire Equipment. It’s made to serve the Department for the next 25 years, and features airbags with rollover protection and battery-powered extrication equipment with back-up.

Craig ended the celebration Sunday by spraying the new engine with water from the retiring engine, then the Porter Firefighters pushed it backward into its bay to conduct its first equipment inspection to officially put it in service.

The wetting of a new fire apparatus is a tradition that dates back to the late 1800s when local clergy used to bless horse-drawn pumpers and ladder carts, according to PFD Lieutenant Brian Mullholland. Mullholland said such early fire apparatuses, after the horses were washed down and untethered, would be pushed backward into their stations.

As they ride, Always Forward, with the Chief’s memory literally etched on the front of the new engine to lead them, the PFD will continue Chief’s legacy of dedication that caused him to leave his wife in the store to answer calls and left many to wonder if he slept in his truck, Craig said.

 

Posted 2/24/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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