A 1970 American LaFrance Aero Chief Fire Truck that made its way from Stark County, Ohio to Starke County, Indiana has a new home at the Washington Township Volunteer Fire Department thanks to a local donor.
The truck has a boom that extends up to 90 feet and is fully functional. Assistant Fire Chief Dave Pearman said department officials are extremely grateful to Melba Shilling for providing this donation.
Pearman remarked, “We don’t have a lot of funds to run our Department from the State. In fact, we raise 40 percent ourselves so we could never have something like this without Melba.”
Community members have a chance to see the truck today during the Fire Department’s Car Show and Swap Meet. Assistant Chief Pearman said the event usually wraps up around 2 p.m. after the Car Show awards are presented.
Melba said that she and her late husband Jim Shilling initially purchased the truck in the late 1990s.They searched all over for a truck and eventually located this one in Hartville located in Stark County, Ohio. Coincidentally, Melba said Jim’s family originated from that area.
She noted that there were a few other options in Chicago but they were stripped down and far more costly. She said the truck was in pristine condition since the Hartville Volunteer Fire department kept the vehicle under roof. The Shillings were also able to keep it stored inside, helping maintain its condition.
Shilling said that her husband made great use of the truck. She shared that when their daughter was married back in the early 2000s, she was able to go up in the bucket and tossed her bouquet from up above.
It was also used for various work around their farm, including trimming trees and hanging the blanket quilt on their barn. She added that Jim was extremely dedicated to helping the community so he also used it to help with a variety of projects around town, such as replacing lights at Wythogan Park and placing the steeple on the Eagle Creek Church.
When Jim passed away in October of 2015, Melba said wanted to make sure the truck was still being put to use. She said she decided to donate it to the Washington Township Fire Department, after working with Assistant Fire Chief Pearman on the Bicentennial board.
She added that she hopes that gifting the truck to the department inspires others to share their resources and donate locally.
In addition to commemorating an individual who went above and beyond for the community that he loved and serving as a symbol of small-town kindness, the truck is still functional and will be utilized by the fire department.
In order store the truck, the bay at the Department will need to be expanded. Shilling has provided a financial contribution to assist with that expansion and the remainder is going to be covered by Washington Township Trustee Kathy Benko, according to Assistant Chief Pearman.