When ladder trucks and cruisers speed to the scene of a fire or other emergency, The Salvation Army rolls in with a healthy supply of practical care and compassion.

Bottled water. Gatorade. Sandwiches. Energy and granola bars. Even full breakfast, lunch and dinner at more-prolonged emergencies.

It’s all courtesy of the Columbus group’s recently arrived mobile canteen. The full stainless steel kitchen on wheels is an idea driven by the fact that fire victims and emergency personnel alike often need something to keep them going — and to let them know that someone else cares.

“If I can be a ray of hope or a simple comfort to someone at the scene, then that’s what I aim to be,” said Capt. Alan Sladek, who leads the local church and social service agency based at 2525 Illinois St. with his wife, Capt. Jodi Sladek.

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He also serves as chaplain of Columbus Township Fire and Rescue, and has been going to fires and some other emergency scenes for some time. The Salvation Army also provides disaster support services for Bartholomew County in general.

The truck, a vehicle normally valued at $120,000 when new, is a gift from The Salvation Army’s Indiana Division headquarters in Indianapolis, where it previously was used. It is one of 12 such canteens statewide and is meant to help in a range of emergency situations, from fires to floods in Bartholomew and surrounding counties. Its first significant local use came during a recent Taylorsville area home fire.

Capt. Steve LaRue of Columbus Township Fire and Rescue said the vehicle can be a great help to firefighters, especially at daytime fires when its part-volunteer manpower is limited because some firefighters are unable to leave work. The limited personnel affects the department’s truck of bottled water and other supplies “because it’s the last one out of the firehouse.”

With a smaller number of personnel, that vehicle sometimes is left behind.

“So this helps keep us hydrated and can give us the carbs we need to keep on going,” LaRue said.

During Columbus’ 2008 flood, The Salvation Army’s Indianapolis office sent its mobile canteen to the city for several days, where volunteers served meals to residents and others at a few sites, said Jerry Larsen, director of the Indiana Division of the Salvation Army’s Disaster Services. This generator-powered truck and kitchen — with an oven, microwave, refrigerator and other appliances — was originally funded through private and corporate donations.

Laresen said it has the capacity to serve 2,000 meals per day, depending upon the food choices. He knows people can understand the practicality of it. But he also likes the spiritual element of its outreach.

“Absolutely anything that we do should display the love of God and the love of people,” Larsen said. “And we serve everyone.”

Larsen and Sladek are uncertain just how much the canteen could be needed in coming months.

“We certainly don’t want to see anything bad ever happen,” Larsen said. “But we just want to be prepared.”

Compassion on a roll

What: The Columbus Salvation Army’s recently arrived emergency canteen, courtesy of the church and social service agency’s Indianapolis office.

Why: To be used at emergencies and disasters in Bartholomew and surrounding counties.

Driven to help: 25 volunteers have been trained to use the vehicle and kitchen.

At their service: Capable of serving 2,000 meals per day.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.