The first time Mason Mayor Leon Clark tried to deliver the fire truck to Kosovo, he found himself on the side of the road with smoke billowing from the engine.
“We got as far as Brighton (outside Detroit) and the truck overheated,” Clark said. “We found out later that it had a blown head gasket.”
That was in August, two years — and one long and winding road — after the idea was first kindled to give one of Masonīs out-of-service trucks to the beleaguered Southeast European nation. The city seems to have a fondness for Kosovo: shortly after its civil war, eight refugee families moved to Mason. Jakup Jahiri, a Kosovo native, came to the city two years ago to visit his son and was amazed at the amount of firefighting equipment Mason had when his own city had so little.
“[Jahiri] said, ‘You must sleep very peacefully at night to have this amount of trucks and equipment for the size of town that you have,’” said Mason Fire Chief Kerry Minshall. “That led to the discussion about what they do and don’t have over there and we decided to see what we could do to get this donated to them.”
After a truck passes the tender age of 25, the National Fire Protection Association recommends it be retired to the fire truck graveyard. The 1984 Ford Grumman had been out of commission and replaced by a new truck two years ago. When Clark took his idea to the City Council, he was approved — as long as he could find a way to get it at no cost to the city. So, a fundraising effort was set up, first at the Mason A & W restaurant, which grossed $1,700 for the delivery, and afterward an anonymous member of the Rotary Club of Mason donated another $1,000.
Soon after receiving the donations, Clark contacted the Denton Humanitarian Assistance Program in South Carolina, which helps U.S.-based non-governmental sources (like a mayor wanting to donate a fire truck to a European country) transport humanitarian aid at little or no cost to the donor. In this case, they helped find space on a C-141 military aircraft to transport the truck.
The brief application involves the donor making the case that the items to be donated will provide legitimate and necessary aid to those on the receiving end and is not just a couple of boxes full of drugs. After the application was approved, the truck was ready to fly from the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, 100 miles away— which brings us back to the side of 1-96 in August. No auto repair company in the area responded to Clark’s request for assistance, so the big red vehicle was hoisted up and dragged all the way back to Mason for the repairs.
After several rejections, Clark reached Mark Hilderbrandt, owner of Done Right Auto and RV in Mason, who stripped down the engine and did $2,000 worth of repairs for free. Two months after the initial catastrophe, Clark is again ready to try the delivery. The truck will be loaded onto a military transfer plane this Saturday and flown straight to Vitina, Kosovo — a municipality with almost 47,000 people and fire vehicles that are more than 40 years old.
This time around, Clark, along with three other Mason firefighters, are accompanying the truck across the Atlantic. But the donations don’t stop there — they are also donating lightly used supplies, including coats, pants, boots, gloves, helmets, hoses, exhaust fans and a set of jaws of life. Clark and his team are going to spend some time in Vitina after the delivery showing the local firefighters how to use some of the equipment and making sure everything gets delivered intact — and with no breakdowns.
“In retrospect, I think it’s better that the breakdown happened here where we have better resources to get it repaired,” Minshall says. “I would much rather deal with the problem than send them something that they would have to get fixed.”