When firefighters in York, Maine, heard about the gas-related explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts Thursday afternoon, they knew they had to hit the road and help. But instead of offering mutual aid by fighting fire on the front lines, they were prepared to fire up some grills and feed hundreds of first responders.
The York Fire Department has a unique vehicle called the SMART Truck. It is a box truck built to be a command center, interview room, rehab unit, and mobile kitchen.
York Fire Chief Chris Balentine said they have driven the SMART Truck to large-scale incidents in southern Maine and New Hampshire, but never as far away as Lawrence, Massachusetts.
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He said they had no second thoughts about driving across two state lines to offer help to their fellow firefighters.
"There's an intense mutual aid network — a brotherhood and a sisterhood you can't even describe," said Balentine.
Because the explosions started right before dinner time, Balentine said many of the first responders were working long hours on empty stomachs.
Set up in the Lawrence Market Basket parking lot, they quickly went through all of their water and snacks. Even though the grocery store lost power, Market Basket opened its doors and donated 12 carts of food.
In a few hours, six firefighters from York were able to feed around 500 first responders.
Images of their efforts have been widely shared online. The York Maine Fire Department Facebook page shared photos of their crew grilling and serving hot dogs and hamburgers. The post has been shared more than ten thousand times and has received hundreds of comments praising the department and Market Basket for their efforts.
Some commenters are thanking fire department for "stepping up to the plate" while others are calling their show of support a bright spot on a dark day.