The members of the Dante Fire Department see themselves as a family.
Earlier this year, that family decided to honor the family of one of their own by dedicating its newly-purchased brush truck to Josie and Mikey Van Duysen, who died in a car crash in October near Leola at the ages of 4 and 2, respectively.
"We've always been kind of a family in the fire department, ourselves, and to have a tragedy like this happen, for these guys to dedicate this to my kids is a pretty big thing to us," said Mike Van Duysen, Josie and Mikey's father and a firefighter for the department for nearly 10 years, on Monday afternoon. "It's another way to honor my kids, and these guys have gone above and beyond helping us with the grieving and the processing of what we've been through."
Additions to the truck were built largely by fire department volunteers over the last several months. Chief Mike Kotab said the truck was purchased with a chassis cab in January. And now, after countless hours of work, has a flatbed that can carry assorted supplies and just needs a few finishing details.
Kotab said building much of the truck both cut costs and gave the department an opportunity for customization.
"Because we are so small and our trucks are limited, we have to put as much stuff as we can on a limited number of trucks, so we've customized it a little bit to our needs," Kotab said. "We went around to other departments, looked and saw and picked and chose really good ideas that we liked, just so we could get all the stuff we needed out the scene."
While much of that customization involved the truck's flatbed, some of the more decorative elements were chosen in homage to the Van Duysen children. The truck's number is 3-2V, representing their last name, and on the hood of the truck are vinyl decals of horses, which Josie and Mikey loved.
Kotab said when the Dante Fire Department reorganized in 2003, it only had one truck. Over the next nine years, it expanded to three to accommodate the increase in volunteers. Since then, the newest truck is one of three brush trucks to be dedicated to someone in the community who has died.
"One of the big things with any fire is just having enough people, enough manpower," Kotab said of the necessity for multiple trucks. "So just to get everybody there, we bring every piece of equipment out that we have, because there's something we might have that the neighboring fire department doesn't. We want to make sure everything's there."
The department now has 17 volunteers, and Kotab said it typically responds to about 16 to 20 calls per year, with 10 people responding to each call. The Dante Fire Department also assists nearby departments, such as those in Avon and Wagner, as needed. Due to a rainy spring, the new brush truck hasn't yet made its debut.
Van Duysen said he and his wife, Breannah, have been appreciative of the support they've received from the fire department and the rest of the community, and he was at a loss for words when it was suggested that the new truck be dedicated to Mikey and Josie.
"I want to thank the firemen, our departments around the community (and) anybody that has helped with anything with what we've gone through, and the community itself," Van Duysen said. "We're just such a close community around here, and everybody has been nothing but supportive of me and my family. I cannot ask for a better place to live than where I'm at right now."