MOUNT VERNON — Friends, family and colleagues of retired Centerburg Fire Chief Robert L. Whited gathered at the Country Club Retirement Campus on Saturday afternoon to honor the chief's career and contribution to the community and the fire service in central Ohio. Whited’s former department, now known as the Central Ohio Joint Fire District, honored the chief by dedicating its new 2009 Sutphen rescue engine truck to him.
COJFD Chief Joe Porter said dedicating fire equipment to outstanding members of the fire service is an important tradition.
“It’s the right thing to do," Porter said. “He was instrumental in making this department what it is.
“This one’s all for you," Porter told Whited, 88, who served the then volunteer department from 1950 to 1974. He was named chief in 1954, filling the post until his retirement in 1974.
Chiefs who followed Whited during the past 35 years spoke at the dedication, highlighting Whited’s reputation for ingenuity, precision and hard work.
“If he couldn’t purchase a piece of equipment, he made it,” said Chief Tom Stewart of Orange Township in Delaware County, who served as the Centerburg chief from 1983 to 1990, and worked as a firefighter during Whited’s tenure as chief.
Randall White, who served as COJFD chief from 1990-95, said that when he started with the department, he noticed several tools the department used which did not look like those purchased from any fire equipment company.
“As a welder, I was in awe,” White recalled. “They may not have looked the greatest, but they worked to perfection.”
“They weren’t the designer group, but they worked,” said Hugh Dick, who served as chief from 1995-2000. Dick described a handmade brass tool which, when attached to a hose, created a water curtain to protect nearby structures from fire. COJFD Lt. Jason Whipple said the department still uses the tool, and removed it from the new engine to show the gathering.
Whited and his wife, Virgie, lived in the Centerburg committee for many years following his return from World War II. Their daughter, Bobbi Whited Davis, who now lives in Florida, and son, Roy Whited of Centerburg, were present for the dedication. Granddaughter Carey Whited Ballinger of Centerburg also attended with her family, including Robert’s great-grandson, Jackson.
Roy said the dedication was an important honor for his father, who gave many years to the department. Bobbi agreed.
“Dad gave so much time to the department,” she said. “My brother and I grew up around the fire trucks.”
Following the dedication ceremony, Porter treated the Whited family to a ride in the new engine.
“It’s been a wonderful day,” Whited said with a smile, watching the crowd of fire officers gathered in official dress mingling with his family and friends. “They remind me of things.”
“We saw people we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Virgie. “This was nice, I enjoyed it.”
The couple has been married 67 years and has resided at Country Club Retirement Campus about a year.
Stewart explained Robert’s legacy with the fire service.
“He and this department were instrumental in guiding the careers of several chiefs and battalion chiefs, captains, lieutenants and firefighters,” he said.
Ed Dick, a friend of Robert’s who served under him on the department, said the dedication honor was well deserved.
“He was a heck of a chief,” he said.