Outside the Boise Fire Department maintenance yard hangs a sign: "Fire trucks are godlike vehicles that should always be over-maintained as a labor of love, personally and professionally, so they can protect good and fight evil."
Fighting fires is a dirty job. It's hard on people, and it's hard on equipment. So when the Boise Fire Department needs its gear taken care of, they turn to three guys with perpetually dirty hands: Joe McNeill, Brian Skinner and Lyle Musick. The three comprise the heart and soul of the department's maintenance effort. Not only that, but they also respond to fires; you don't get to be a Boise Fire maintenance captain just by being handy. All three are firefighters first.
From their sprawling compound near downtown Boise, the three fix everything from fire engines (the city employs about 45 "front-line" engines) to air tanks (each rig carries about 200 of them), all while devising new ways to make a firefighter's equipment perform better.
"Our basic priority is to support the guys on the line," Skinner said. "If we can't find it or buy it, we'll make it," said Skinner.
As with most things in the hectic world of firefighting, there is rarely a "normal" day. Calls for maintenance, as well as fires themselves, come in throughout the day and night. The job requires a knowledge of electronics (new-fangled air tanker packs come with more than 300 moving parts) to keeping fire trucks rolling and ready to hit the fire scene.
"It's kind of an unwritten thing, that everybody needs to step up and take these jobs," said McNeill. "The reason we become firefighters is to serve."
Best of all, as former firefighters, Skinner, McNeill and Musick all know just how a fire truck can come to need maintenance.
"We tell the guys, 'If you get a call, run the wheels off,'" said Skinner. "And they do."