New Jersey man’s firetruck highlight of gathering

Posted Aug. 01, 2009, at 5:15 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The turnout was low, but Jim Melia still managed to turn heads during Saturday afternoon’s gathering of the Pine Tree chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Motorized and Antique Firefighting Apparatus in America, or SPAAMAA.

Melia, a New Jersey native and teacher in Maryland who said he is living this summer in Brooksville and is affiliated with Nichols Day Camp in Sedgwick, drove his 1971 American LaFrance Pumper 1000 series truck from the Blue Hill Peninsula to the Union Street Athletic Complex, where local SPAAMFAA officials had hoped to have a muster, contests and demonstrations of old firefighting equipment.

Melia showed up, as did a truck from Glenburn and vehicles belonging to chapter president Thornton Ring of South Freeport and muster coordinator Ron Grant of Hudson. When it became apparent that wasn’t going to be enough for many activities, the attention shifted to Melia’s truck.

A firefighter for eight years in Pompton Lakes, N.J., Melia bought the truck from the fire department in Clifton, N.J., several years ago for $2,500. He’s put a lot of money into it, too.

“… When you start getting into this it’s like, what am I doing?” Melia said with a smile. “It’s like getting a free horse. They’re not free, are they? A $2,500 fire truck isn’t free. It was like, what’s this going to cost, what’s that going to cost. But you learn a lot about the truck, and get resourceful in fixing them. It becomes a labor of love.”

Melia said he brought the truck to Maine so that the kids at Nichols Day Camp could ride on it in local parades.

The front of the truck is decorated with a gold decal of a lobster holding a hose. Melia said the decoration was painted by Jay Peterson, an occasional guest on the famous radio program Prairie Home Companion whose children went to the camp.

The truck has about 56,000 miles on it, and has a Detroit 671 diesel engine.

SPAAMFAA’s Pine Tree chapter was established in 2003 and has about 40 members. The group does occasional gatherings all over the state.

Although several families stopped to look at the old trucks, Ring and Grant were hoping for a much better attendance.

“We invited all kinds of fire departments but there’s so much going on in other communities,” Grant said. “It kind of takes away from this.”

Grant handed out one award — Melia’s American LaFrance was named Best truck.

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