This 1941 fire truck will be on display at Dollywood's FireChaser Express. J.H. Osborne photo.
KINGSPORT — Two big things from Dollywood rolled into Kingsport’s Fire Station #2 on Thursday.
Both — a vintage 1941 fire truck and an extra long fire hose — will be key display components of the theme park’s new family friendly roller coaster when it opens next month.
The ride itself is meant to evoke the rush that comes with the peril of responding to the call for help when a fire threatens homes and nature.
The hose — which has traveled around the state gathering signatures of heroes near and far — addresses another aspect: honoring those who have answered the call as volunteers and career firefighters.
Answering that call is a special thing, said Dollywood’s Public Relations Director Pete Owens.
“Everyone who volunteers or chooses a career in firefighting is a hero,” Owens said as he and other Dollywood representatives invited firefighters from throughout Northeast Tennessee to sign the hose during its stop Thursday in Kingsport.
The “FireChaser Express” hose started its tour in Knoxville and has gone as far west as Nashville and as far east as the Tri-Cities, Owens said.
It will wrap up its travels this weekend at a firefighters expo in Pigeon Forge.
“We’re hoping that hundreds more firefighters will have the opportunity to sign it.”
The hose will be on permanent display at Dollywood’s new FireChaser Express, which opens on March 22.
Dollywood will hold a special ceremony on May 4 — International Firefighters Day — to dedicate the hose, and the vintage truck, to honor all the firefighters.
Owens and the others also took the opportunity of their visit Thursday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Sullivan County Imagination Library, an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
The Dollywood Foundation launched Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Sevier County in 1996. The program mails one book each month to children from birth until they are 5 years old.
Since its inception, it has “spread like wildfire,” Owens said.
In 2001, Parton offered other communities the opportunity to replicate the program. In 2004, then-Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen established the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation — and in March of that year, the Sullivan County Imagination Library was established.
The Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation covers 50 percent of the book and mailing cost, in Tennessee, while local program champions like the Sullivan County Imagination Library Council, cover the other 50 percent, Owens said.
On Thursday, to celebrate the local chapter’s 10th anniversary, Kingsport Fire Department Public Education Officer Barry Brickey read “The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck” to a group of local schoolchildren — and each child got a copy to take home.
FireChaser Express launches twice, traveling forward and backward on a winding 2,427-foot track. The coaster launches from the loading station traveling from zero to 16 mph in just 1.1 second. As the journey ends, a backward launch from zero to 20 mph in two seconds sends FireChaser Express back to the station traveling in the opposite direction. Perched 12 stories above Dollywood’s Wilderness Pass area, the coaster’s 39-inch minimum height requirement invites families to ride together.
A 79-foot lift propels FireChaser Express through a “trick track” section where the passenger trains twist from side to side. Riders also encounter two helices and six zero-gravity moments on a journey that lasts two minutes and 19 seconds. FireChaser Express features three 14-passenger trains with an hourly capacity of 750 riders.
FireChaser Express celebrates the volunteer-based fire departments of the 1940s who protected the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Coaster passengers are volunteer recruits needed to help Chief Pete Embers spot any potential fire hazards in the area. They are especially mindful of recent lightning in the area and Crazy Charlie Cherriebaum’s Gas & Fireworks Emporium. Recruits never know when they might be called to save the day.
Once the five-bell alarm sounds in Station 7, it’s go time in Dollywood’s Wilderness Pass as FireChaser Express launches from the station and careens through fire towers and the mountainside amid crashed rockets, a destroyed fireworks storage shed, fallen telephone poles with “rocket darts” and other charred remnants that litter the coaster’s path.