West Grove fireman, head of pumper restoration, dies

Photo by Bill Wohl Mike Predmore as Santa Claus listens to the requests of a child on the bumper of a West Grove fire truck during the holiday season.
Photo by Chris Barber Mike Predmore, who died last week, drives "Elsie" the antique pumper in the 2012 Mushroom Festival Parade.

WEST GROVE -- West Grove Fire Company is mourning the death of First Assistant Engineer Mike Predmore, who passed away on March 6 after a short illness.

Predmore, 55, was dearly loved in the community and among his peers, but he was especially well known for his attachment to the company’s antique pumper, “Elsie,” and his role as Santa Claus every holiday season.

He joined the company in 1990, and in his capacity as engineer he was responsible for the care and maintenance of the fire trucks. But his shining moments came when the members of the company had the opportunity to obtain and restore their original 1928 Hale pumper, which had once been sold but became available about seven years ago.

The story is told that when the company was celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2005, the men discussed finding the pumper. About that time, then-Fire Chief John Chambers said he had received a call from a woman, Elsie Thorpe, in Tioga County, who said she had the pumper and wanted to sell it following the death of her husband.

Fire company member Bill Wohl said when they went to pick it up, the truck was dirty, dusty and in disrepair. But it was Predmore who was able to tool around with it and get it to start. As a tinkerer of old cars – he is said to have completely dismantled and reassembled a Model A Ford – he became the chairman of the Restoration Committee, Wohl said.

When the restoration was finished and it arrived in West Grove in 2012, Predmore said in an interview that he was thrilled not only with the appearance, but that it bore a new siren and a name plate that says, “Elsie” after Mrs. Thorpe, who had made the acquisition possible.

“It was his baby,” Wohl said.

In the two years that followed, Predmore was responsible for Elsie and drove it in parades and other special occasions. Wohl said that Predmore was particularly excited about planning to go to the national Fire Department Instructors’ Conference to be held in Indianapolis next month. He had received word that the Hale Company planned to showcase Elsie as the centerpiece of their display and he had planned to take it.

Another interest Predmore had in the old pumper was to use it for honoring fallen firefighters. He designed hardware that attached to the rear of the pumper to carry the caskets of the deceased members. It is rumored that in his will he requested that his last ride would be in the back of Antique 22 (Elsie). Wohl said that request will be granted in his upcoming funeral procession on Friday.

But Elsie was not his only interest.

Every year at Christmas time, Predmore would dress up as Santa Claus and ride around in a fire truck to all the housing developments in the service area. He would get out of the truck and sit on the bumper listening to the children in turn telling him what they wanted for Christmas.

Wohl said this project started around Thanksgiving and went until late December. Often he did two or three neighborhoods in a day after having scheduled the times (dozens and dozens of them, Wohl said) with parents.

Wohl also said that if a call came during the neighborhood visits, Predmore would get on the truck and respond to the fire immediately. Last December there was a serious crash and Predmore showed up to rescue two children in his Santa costume from a neighborhood visit.

Predmore was also active in the Boy Scouts and in the safety programs that have been carried on by fire company member Lisa Glass. During these programs, members of the fire company go to schools and give demonstrations not only about escaping burning homes, but also about the dangers of drunk driving at prom time.

His funeral will be Friday, March 14, at 10 a.m. at Assumption BVM Church on State Road. Viewings will be 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday and 9 to 10 a.m. on Friday at the church. The procession with Elsie and fire trucks to the cemetery will immediately follow the funeral on Friday.

About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at agsun@kennettpaper.com .