By Kristin Schultz
Sound the alarm. Four friends have embarked on a business idea they hope will catch fire. Niska-Day parade-goers will get a first look at the Thirsty Pump as the 1983 Pierce fire engine ferries grand marshal John Furey along the route.
The mobile event service is the brainchild of two local couples, Bob and Claire Wessels and Dennis Plakas and Teresa Pallotolo. Come June, the team hopes to be fully in business, renting out the fire engine for outdoor events ranging from birthday parties to wedding receptions to corporate events.
More than just parking a cool fire engine, Thirsty Pump can double as a bar for the grownups, dispensing up to four kinds of beer and cider from its on-board taps. For the younger crowd, the owners plan to talk with kids about fire safety, perhaps conduct junior firefighter academy sessions, let the kids explore the truck and try on firefighter gear.
“We want to engage with the kids and teach them basic fire knowledge,” said Plakas. Pallotolo is a teacher with two master’s degrees and plans to use her skills and education to develop programs that are age-appropriate for little ones.
For years Niskayuna firefighter Bob Wessels (who is also a police officer and EMS trainer among other things) had the idea for a firetruck-themed bar. Fellow firefighter Plakas had also contemplated opening a business and had a food service background and entrepreneurial spirit.
As the foursome was kicking around business ideas, Plakas found a fire engine listed for sale on Craigslist. It was in Riverhead on Long Island and, since Crooked Ladder Brewery was the seller, the truck was already fitted with room for kegs and featured working taps.
“The timing was right,” said Plakas. “We had talked about it and then there is was. It was in amazing shape.”
There was little work to be done on the engine. They fixed a siren and, with the help of Niskayuna Tire, will be outfitting the rig with Thirsty Pump Branding and getting it shined up for the weekend’s parade.
The business will make use of all the owners’ talents to be successful. Bob Wessels and Plakas will maintain the engine and teach fire safety. Pallotolo will develop curriculum and programs that are age-appropriate for children and Claire Wessels will put her marketing, business and web experience to use in promoting the business.
Family and community
More than just a money-making venture, the group hopes to make a bigger impact both within their own families and in the community. The Wessels have two daughters — ages 5 and 2 — and Plakas and Pallotolo are proud parents of a 5-month-old baby girl.
“We’re a women-owned and veteran-owned business,” said Claire. (Bob is also in the Army National Guard.) “I think it’s important for girls to see their moms successful in business. The joy of working and the joy of having a family don’t have to be exclusive.”
In addition to setting an example for their children, the quartet plans to support the community by using local services like Niskayuna Tire, and buying local products to stock the truck.
“It’s important to buy local. We can all lift each other up,” Claire said.
The owners also intend to use the business to raise funds for charities, particularly veteran and firefighter organizations.
Firetrucks are a classic piece of Americana. From arriving on the scene of a fire with lights blazing and water shooting out of the roof canon to driving in parades as firefighters toss candy to expectant children, big red trucks and the men and women who drive them are a part of communities across the country.
Though not always related by blood, firefighters are a family. They work hard together, rely on each other and hang out, enjoying one another’s company. Thirsty Pump aims to bring that sense of fun and family to the region.
“We want to provide an outdoor experience that is customized to our client’s need,” said Claire. “We tap into that nostalgia and also bring the fire safety education piece.”
In addition to the Niska-Day parade, Thirsty Pump will make an appearance at the Saratoga and Scotia Memorial Day parades.
For more information, visit thirstypump.com or check out the Facebook page or Instagram account @thirstypump or email firstname.lastname@example.org.