By Alena Davis and Marissa Russo
Mason Times staff writers
MASON–On Jan. 4, city officials will show pictures from their trip to deliver a fire truck to Kosovo last October.
The meeting at the high school will also include details about the possibility of forming a sister city alliance with Vitina, where the truck was delivered, said Mayor Leon Clark.
“There were four of us that went on this trip to Kosovo,” said Clark. “Between the four of us, we took over 1,800 pictures. The fourth of January we have the auditorium at the high school lined up and we are inviting anybody that is interested to come between 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. We are going to show all the pictures and tell the story of how this project got started.”
This project was started a few years ago when the former mayor of Vitina came to Mason to visit his son. He received a tour of the fire department and was astounded by the equipment.
“(At the time), the city of Mason had a fire truck that decommissioned so they were thinking that maybe (they) could donate it,” said Executive Assistant Ingrid Nova. “Since we donated it, they decided to take the next step and become a sister city.”
The donation led to a trip to Kosovo taken by city officials to deliver the retired fire engine and other goods.
“The mayor, Leon Clark, he’s also a firefighter, Martin Colburn, the city administrator, along with two other firefighters went (to Kosovo) back in October to teach the people that were given the fire truck how to use it,” said Nova.
Nova said Kosovo gave Colburn and the others many flags, banners and certificates of appreciation. They were all given to the Mason fire department and also other departments that donated gear.
With such a large population, Vitina is in need of more equipment for their fire department to keep the community safe.
“The city itself is 10,000 people; the total community is 35,000. They have three pieces of fire fighting equipment and most don’t even work,” said Clark.
The retired engine and other fire fighting equipment was shipped by a U.S. military aircraft, courtesy of the The Denton Program. This program allows donors to use military equipment to deliver humanitarian goods to other countries in need.
“We’ve had some discussions with the representatives from the Denton group. We’ve had a successful mission and the next time we want to do something it will be even easier,” said Clark. “I’ve had some discussion with some (other) departments and there is some talk of the possibility of shipping some more stuff over there.”
As far as what will be donated next, Mason Fire Chief, Kerry Minshall, said he has an idea of what he would like to see sent over to Vitina.
“From the fire department’s point of view, I would like to continue to donate retired equipment,” said Minshall. “We have equipment that when it reaches a certain age, we don’t use it anymore because of regulations. A lot of times there is a lot of useful life in that equipment so as we go forward I’d like to be able to send that overseas. (Vitina) will be a sister city so that would be a good place for that (equipment).”
Not only would a sister city alliance keep donations going to Vitina, it would also help rebuild and restore the Kosovo city to become a more advanced community.
“I know they have a lot of needs as far as infrastructure, and there is a lot of rebuilding going on,” said Minshall. “I think what (Mason) would like to do is to try and get them affiliated with the agricultural department at MSU or if there are areas over here that we can help outreach and help them rebuild and become a better community.”
Clark said Vitina’s natives are heavy on agriculture and very inventive. They raise their own food, grow their own crops and build their own equipment. They can’t buy a lot of things but they can build a lot,” said Clark.
“Its strange to go to a country where you don’t see any Western influence at all. There wasn’t a McDonalds,” said Clark. “We saw farmers that actually had horses and wheels. They grow corn, and they grow wheat. We saw wagons with motors on the front and we called them Kosovo Harleys.”
The people of Vitina use mostly natural resources to provide everyday needs. Clark said he saw burning coal used to generate electricity and burning wood to provide heat.
Clark said he has hopes to learn about Vitina’s agricultural resources. He thinks Vitina could teach Mason a lot about natural resources and different things about agriculture. However, Clark still hopes to help advance the agricultural equipment in Kosovo.
“I’ve talked to local farmers and to make arrangements to ship old tractors over,” said Clark.
Along with collaborating agriculturally, city officials also hope to set up an alliance between the schools in Vitina and Mason. Clark hopes to help with equipment for the schools in Vitina and also create a relationship between the students.
“Everybody that I met there has an education. Kids go to school four hours a day. They have so many kids but so few facilities so they have to rotate them between times,” said Clark. “We’re trying to (help) the schools. They don’t have (equipment) in the classrooms. We’re trying to get the superintendent of schools here to talk to their director of education.”
Nova said the sister city alliance proposal has been receiving positive feedback from the citizens of Mason.
“They are proud that Mason was able to donate the fire truck to a city of need,” said Nova.
Clark said he has also received good comments from presentations he has already made to some Mason citizens.
“The feedback has been great,” said Clark. “Everybody is writing down the date in January because they are so excited to see and hear what we experienced. We learned so much in a week.”