Pentwater Fire Department welcomes new aerial truck.

May 22, 2022

Pentwater Fire Department welcomes new aerial truck.

Truck dedicated in honor of late chief Paul Smith and Cpt. John Sayles.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

PENTWATER — Pentwater firefighters and community members welcomed a new aerial ladder truck to the department’s fleet Saturday, May 21, and dedicated it in honor of late Pentwater Fire Chief Paul Smith and Cpt. John Sayles.

The $1 million truck is the first brand-new aerial truck in Oceana County, said Pentwater Fire Chief Jonathan Hughart. 

Top row, left to right: Fire Chief Jonathan Hughart and Cpt. Jesse Bowman; bottom row, 1st Lt. Mark Haynor, Asst. Chief Terry Cluchey, firefighter Adam Kokx, Karen Smith (widow of Chief Paul Smith), Melanie Sayles (window of Cpt. John Sayles), Secretary Ray Hasil, firefighter Joe Malburg and firefighter Aaron Boyko.

Hughart, 30, became the fire chief last December following Smith’s death. 

The 2021 Pierce Ascendant 107 Aerial Ladder “is one of the largest ladders that Pierce makes on a single axle,” said Hughart. “Being on a single axle, it allows us in the village to get around some of the tight streets. Being at 107 feet, we can reach some very tall buildings.

“This aerial was a dream of Paul and John’s. That’s why it says Big John on the front.” Sayles died in 2012 at the age of 38. Smith passed away last November at age 60.

Top row, left to right: Fire Chief Jonathan Hughart and Cpt. Jesse Bowman; bottom row, 1st Lt. Mark Haynor, Asst. Chief Terry Cluchey, firefighter Adam Kokx, Secretary Ray Hasil, firefighter Joe Malburg and firefighter Aaron Boyko.

“When Paul took over as chief in 2018, he was really trying to push to get an aerial. In 2019, we had a few fires where we called in departments and had to use their aerial trucks. That was kind of the tipping point for Paul, and we said, ‘We’re going to try to get one.’

Pentwater Fire Chief Jonathan Hughart

“This is the first aerial Pentwater has ever had and it is the third aerial in the county.” Shelby-Benona and Ferry Township departments also have aerial ladder trucks. This is the only brand-new aerial in the county.” The neighboring departments purchased used aerial trucks.

A special millage approved by voters in August of 2020 financed the purchase of the $996,000 truck. “With the huge support of our community in the village and the township, we approved a special millage to finance this truck.”

“It’s a brand new paint scheme,” said the chief of the dazzling red and black truck. “We decided we wanted to do black over red as kind of a Chicago style. It turned out very sharp.”

After Hughart addressed the crowd that gathered at the fire station, firefighters and community members manually pushed the truck into the station. “It’s a tradition in the fire service. It goes way back to the horse-drawn fire truck days. When they had trailers on the horses, the horses couldn’t go backwards with the heavy trailers, so they would have to take the horses off, and the firefighters would have to push it back into the station. It’s a tradition that a lot of fire departments do when they get a new truck.

“This push-in ceremony means a lot to the members of this department. We’re honored that you all took the time to share this moment with us,” the chief said. 

“At any time our department has asked for help from the residents of the Village of Pentwater and Pentwater Township, they responded with a resounding ‘yes.’

“Over 10 years ago, Cpt. John Sayles and at that time Lt. Paul Smith were among the members that dreamt that Pentwater Fire Department would one day have an aerial like the one you see before us today.” Smith’s and Sayles’ family members were among the many people who gathered for the emotional ceremony.

“On Nov. 14, 2012, Pentwater Fire Department suffered a huge loss when Cpt. John T. Sayles died from a cardiac event 24 hours after assisting Hart Area Fire Department on structure fire. John had been a very active member since joining the PFD in 2002 and quickly climbed the ranks. He was also an employee of Pentwater Department of Public Works and was loved by the community for his smile, laugh and his positive attitude — no matter how mundane the task. Everybody loved John.

“In the years following John’s death, many changes occurred on Pentwater Fire Department, but one thing remained the same — Pentwater would one day have an aerial. 

“In 2018, Paul Smith became fire chief after long-time Chief Terry Cluchey decided it was time to pass on the torch. Paul continued discussions on how to get an aerial for the community he served.”

After the millage passed two years ago, months of research led to the purchase of the new truck. “John and Paul’s dream was no longer a dream — it was a reality.” 

Not long after finalizing the truck’s specifications to be built, Smith became ill in 2021. “He would later learn that the bladder cancer he once beat had returned. Paul fought hard to get better. Even through his sickness, Paul checked on his brothers at the department and would always ask how the aerial project was coming along.

“On Nov. 16, 2021, our chief, friend and brother Paul Curtis Smith passed away, leaving another huge hole in the heart of the Pentwater Fire Department.

“This new apparatus is sure to be used for decades to come. Of the three aerials in service in Oceana County, Pentwater 391 is more than 25 years newer than the next aerial. At 107 feet, its ladder is more than 30 feet taller than the next tallest aerial. And it’s the first new aerial ever purchased by an Oceana County fire department.

“Without the dreams of John and Paul and without the hard work and countless hours Paul put into getting this aerial, it would not be here in Pentwater to serve this great community today. So today, May 21, 2022, we dedicate this truck to our fallen brothers Cpt. “Big John” Sayles and Fire Chief Paul Smith. Every time you see this truck and every time the members of Pentwater Fire Department drive and use this aerial, may we remember Paul and John.”

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