Fallen fireman takes a last ride

“Elsie” the antique 1928 Hale Pumper, leaves the grounds of Assumption BVM Church bearing the casket and body of fallen West Grove firefighter Mike Predmore. Photo by Chris Barber
Friends and fellow firefighters wheel Mike Predmore’s casket to the waiting 1928 Hale pumper, destined to carry the body to the cemetery on Friday. Photo by Chris Barber

LONDON GROVE – The firefighter who loved his family, community and good food was laid to rest Friday, carried to the cemetery in the back of the truck he helped restore.

Mike Predmore, a 24-year veteran and first assistant engineer of the West Grove Fire Company, died last Thursday after a short illness.

Following his funeral on Friday -- per his wishes -- his friends and colleagues loaded his casket onto the back of “Elsie,” the company’s 1928 Hale Pumper and drove it to the New London Cemetery for burial.

Predmore, 55, is remembered for his leadership in the Boy Scouts, as a Santa Claus celebrant, a fire safety educator and a tinkerer of old vehicles, but most of all for his leadership in the restoration of “Elsie,” the fire truck the company owned, sold and then recovered in 2005. In his capacity as first assistant engineer, he was responsible for the care and maintenance of the trucks.

The story is told by fellow fire company member Bill Wohl, that when several members of the restoration committee went to Tioga County to pick up the old pumper in disrepair, Predmore worked around on it for about 20 minutes and got it running for its trip back to West Grove.

Predmore said in an interview that when the restoration of the old truck was completed several years ago, the operation had involved taking apart every single screw, nut and part of the vehicle, refinishing or cleaning them and putting them back together.

He was proud of the vehicle that is now housed in the London Britain substation on Route 896. He was eager to tell people about it, and he drove it frequently in parades and special occasions.

Recently, he designed special hardware so that the caskets of fallen firefighters could be attached and carried to their burial destinations.

Wohl, who gave the eulogy at Assumption BVM Church, said, “This was his baby. He said, ‘When I die, I want to take my last ride in Elsie.’ He knew (when he designed the hardware) he was planning his own funeral.”

Standing before scores of friends and an audience of more than 50 uniformed firefighters from West Grove and beyond at the church, Wohl portrayed Predmore as a hero, man who was committed to generosity, serving others and helping the weak.

He talked about Predmore’s Santa Claus project -- driving a fire truck to local housing developments during the Christmas season and listening to requests for gifts from young children. He said that last Christmas season they got a call for two teenagers who were trapped after a serious auto accident. Predmore rushed immediately -- in his Santa outfit -- and helped on-scene to rescue the pair.

Wohl concluded that Predmore was strong and concerned about his family even in his last hours. “He knew his time to ride Elsie was close. I hope we can all be so strong when our time to ride Else comes,” he said.

Predmore in his youth was an Eagle Scout and also achieved the honor of Order of the Arrow. In his adulthood he was also a leader of Boy Scouts, working with Troop 30.

He also developed the school safety program that involves visiting students and teaching them about dealing with fires and avoiding consuming alcohol when driving.

During the service, pastor Father William Murphy spoke of service and love, saying they are signs of God’s loving presence. Speaking of Predmore’s dedication to his family, community and fire company, Murphy quoted Jesus from scripture saying, “The greatest among you is the one who serves.”

After the service, the casket was lifted upon and secured to the back of the antique pumper as an army of uniformed firefighters saluted.

The procession of friends, family and fire trucks then proceeded to New London Cemetery, where Predmore was buried with full military honors.

Predmore, 55, was the first assistant engineer in the West Grove Fire Company, who was responsible for the care and maintenance of the trucks.

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 .