The Cranesville firehouse is a distinctly masculine place.
Inside, the walls are covered with smoke-stained fire gear, sports trophies and a big TV. Outside, the place is all chipped concrete — the siding was torn off in 2011 to check for structural damage after a tornado blasted through and hasn’t been replaced.
“It’s a firehouse,” said department President Jack Hentnik. “It’s just a manly place to be. Not that we don’t have female members.”
It’s exactly the sort of place a guy feels at home, which is why the crew is selling roses for Valentine’s Day. It might sound counter-intuitive, but the annual fundraiser is one of the more successful ideas Assistant Chief Brian Delisa has had over the years.
The crew sells roses by the dozen starting at 8 a.m. the day before Valentines Day to 8 p.m. on the big day itself — if supplies last that long. Last year, they sold out by early afternoon, leaving frantic husbands to pound on the steel door to no avail.
“We felt bad,” Delisa said. “These guys were counting on us.”
The department adjusted the order slightly, and Wednesday morning, the firehouse was filled with 3,000 long-stem roses and a steady trickle of local guys. It’s the third year of the fundraiser. and they expect to sell out again.
Walking in past the fire trucks, it’s easy to see why it caught on. A lot of guys just don’t feel comfortable in a flower shop. It’s too pretty, a foreign environment for the rural male.
“I just need a dozen,” said Jim VanHoesen. “I don’t really care what kind.” He picked a bundle of the traditional red from a line of Home Depot buckets and handed over a $20 bill. He straightened his ball cap as Eric Church growled a country melody over a speaker in the corner and a fireman fished out a nickel in change.
“For my wife,” he said. “We’ve been married 36 years. Wait, we got married in 1975, so 38 years. It’s a hell of a thing.”
One of the crew gave him a rose care cheat sheet, detailing how to chop off the bottom of each stem in easy-to-understand steps like, “open and unwrap your roses.”
Another shopper, Phil Arnold, walked out of the firehouse with a grin and a dozen reds.
“My wife is still training me,” he laughed, admitting he had no idea if $19.95 was a good deal for a dozen roses. “I just know all these guys.”
For the fire department, Valentine’s Day couldn’t have come along at a better time. This spring, repairs are finally starting on the compromised firehouse.
Hentnik recounted the massive devastation left behind by the tornado in September 2011.
“It was like something from a bad horror movie,” he said. “There were trees falling all over houses.”
The road was so covered in trees and debris that his big Chevy truck punctured two tires on the short drive from Route 5 to the firehouse. Luckily, the twister passed just to the north of the station.
Even so, it left a few cracks in the cement walls. Contractors are set to repair those cracks and replace the missing siding with a new steel shell, probably in April.
All told, it will cost upward of $70,000, a large bill for a small department in the current economy. The department did have insurance and is nearing an arrangement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it still has to cover some of the bill.
“Honestly, selling roses isn’t going to pay for the repairs,” Hentnik said, “but every bit helps.”