LOUISBURG — It was a thief in the night.
But no one expected his target to be a fire truck that was in use at the time.
Four Louisburg firefighters responded to a reported grass fire in a ditch just east of Kansas Highway 68 and Coldwater Road about 11:15 p.m. Nov. 14. They arrived at the scene in two smaller Miami County Fire District No. 1 trucks that are equipped to handle grass and brush fires.
“It was pitch black,” said Louisburg firefighter Jon Harris who had driven one of the grass fire rigs to the scene. “We were told there might be someone there at the fire. We had on all of our lights we use at the scene (after dark), but we didn’t see anyone.”
So Harris said he was surprised when he turned around to reposition the truck to better fight the fire when he saw a figure, dressed in dark clothing, standing by the driver’s door.
“I was going to move the grass truck, and I had literally just dropped the hose to the ground when I saw a man trying to open the driver’s door,” Harris said. “I yelled at him to stop and back away from the truck, but he just kept going.”
Harris said before he could reach the vehicle the man drove way, dragging the fire hose on the ground behind it.
Harris, who has about 20 years of firefighting experience and four years with the Louisburg Fire Department, said he has never seen a fire vehicle taken for a joyride, much less one that was in use.
The man fled the scene, emergency lights still flashing atop the vehicle, and turned north on the railroad tracks just across the state line in Missouri.
“He literally drove up on the railroad tracks and continued going north,” Louisburg Fire Chief Gerald Rittinghouse said.
The chief, who wasn’t on the scene that night, said he couldn’t believe what had happened when he first learned of the incident.
“I’m in my thirty-third year, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Rittinghouse said. “Who would have ever thought of someone taking a grass truck for a joyride? And then driving it on the railroad tracks. That’s just crazy.”
Harris said the man drove about one mile north on the tracks before abandoning the vehicle. He had traveled about three miles in total, by road and by track, from the scene of the fire.
Fortunately no trains came through before a Cass County Sheriff’s deputy who was responding to the scene spotted the vehicle on the tracks.
“We’re glad nobody got hurt. We were very fortunate,” Rittinghouse said. “It could have ended a lot worse.”
Damage to the vehicle and fire hose totaled about $2,000.
“The truck was back in service four days after it happened,” Rittinghouse said.
Harris described the man as a white male, about 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing over 200 pounds.
The incident, which started in Miami County and ended in Cass County, Mo., remains under investigation by local authorities.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Rittinghouse said. “It’s another thing I’ll chalk up to 2020.”