By Michelle Paetow
Mason Times staff writer
Mason, a city of 8,144 people, is helping a city of almost 60,000 by sending a recently retired fire truck 4,988 miles overseas to Vitina, Kosovo, in southeastern Europe.
Mason has a fully equipped fire department to service five square miles, while Vitina lacks the large equipment necessary to service its 350 square miles.
Two years ago, Mason Mayor Leon Clark met Jakob Jahiri, former mayor and city administrator of Vitina while he was visiting his son, Petrit, in Mason. Clark, a volunteer firefighter for 34 years, gave Jahiri a tour of Mason. After hearing about the conditions of the Vitina fire department, Clark started planning to donate a 1984 1,000-gallon pumper truck, which was taken out of service in March.
“We know it is in good condition. It has passed all of its Department of Transportation inspections, everything has been updated, it is a good functioning truck and should last these people 10-15 years,” Clark said. “My understanding is that to get it to Kosovo, it is going in the belly of a C-141 using the Denton Company.
“The Department of Defense said it’s not their business to do this type of thing. Denton, the non-profit company we have been working with, does these kinds of donations. We will have multiple inspections before shipment.”
The pumper comes with ladders and a full complement of hose. Usually, when a fire truck is taken out of service, it goes on to the market and is sold to a private buyer. The truck is an open-cab, which is no longer made in the United States. The open-cab design does not fit new National Fire Protection Association guidelines, so it could not be donated or sold to a fire department in the U.S. Most likely, Mason would not have received much money for it. Instead of putting it up for sale, Clark spoke with Mason Fire Chief Kerry Minshall about donating the 34,000-pound truck to Kosovo.
“We have done this before. When Katrina hit, we sent a truck and supplies down to Mississippi, but nothing overseas. Our long-term goal is to become a sister city and build a relationship with Vitina. We want to have a place to send our equipment,” Minshall said. “After 10 years, turnout gear is supposed to be thrown out regardless of condition. We can’t give it to any stations in the United States. The fire department there really needs it.”
Clark presented his idea to City Council, which granted his request with one condition: it could not cost the city any money.
“We got involved because there was an obvious need. We reached out to our personal contacts, departments in the immediate area, and Chief Minshall of Mason took it to the Tri-county Fire Chiefs Association meeting and made an announcement letting them know what we were going to do and if they have any surplus to send it over,” Clark said.
“It has taken time and you have to go through the motions, but in the overall scheme of things, it is very easy for this small community to help with this larger community. For the amount of impact we are going to have on his community and the things those people are going to be able to do now that they’ve never been able to do before, it will just hit you and just, wow. It’s overwhelming.”
The shipment will include not only include the truck, but equipment from Mason, the Dansville Fire Department, Onondaga Fire Department and the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department. Vitina has 34 firefighters, one truck about half the size of the one Mason is sending, two pairs of boots that don’t leak and two to four breathing apparatuses.
Dansville Fire Chief Tim Whipple said, “We are a small community, so we don’t have many fires. All of our stuff is in real good shape. We donated 11 turnout coats, six pairs of pants, and we had some old … hydraulic extrication equipment that we don’t use anymore, and we thought it would be put to good use over there,” Whipple said. “I think it is great that the small towns and the departments in Ingham County are donating equipment for the fact that the people in Vitina don’t have the equipment. What Mason has in their station is more than what they have to cover 60,000 people. The way I understand it they have a big parade planned for its arrival.”
National Fire Protection Association regulations say that equipment and turnout gear should be discarded after being in use for 10 years, regardless of condition.
“We take it for granted here. We have all the protection and service the city provides for us. If something is out of gear or not working, we just throw it out and get new stuff. There is no market for used gear. The Vitina Fire Department really needs it,” Minshall said.
Minshall hopes to send a firefighter to Kosovo with the fire truck and donations to teach firefighters to use the equipment and operate the truck. Because this donation cannot cost the city any money, sending a firefighter to Vitina will have to be funded privately by donations or the individual. Jahiri will be returning to Kosovo in May and is looking forward to sharing the news and photos from Mason in his town.
“When I came on a family visit, I felt a great amount of respect and hospitality from the mayor. Throughout the visit we saw the water treatment, local administration buildings, fire department. I realized the City of Mason has everything they need for their people. We thought about it, and we came to this idea. If they have spare equipment that they can ship, why not be a part of this,” said Jahiri, translated by his son Petrit.
Jahiri has met with Clark twice in two years and has seen the truck and equipment donations piling up. To date, the Mason Fire Department has collected 24 breathing apparatuses plus 30 to come from the Public Works Department in Maple Rapids, 36 pairs of boots, turnout gear, gloves, helmets and extrication equipment that can all be used in Vitina with the truck. The inventory has passed the first inspection from the Denton Company.
In Vitina, the small pumper trucks they have are sitting outside, but plans are in motion to build a garage to house the Mason pumper truck.
“Well, they have people that can train in Vitina, but we hope that people from here can go and help train. The community is very excited and the firefighters will be able to save more lives,” Jahiri said. “Obviously, this is going to be a great help for the city. We are also creating a friendship between Vitina and the City of Mason.”