May 21, 2011
Perhaps the longest serving firefighter in the community, a Sunbury resident put his fire boots away ending a 50-year career with Tri-Township Fire Department.
Senior Capt. Merlin “Boots” Sheets has seen it all through his 50 years of fighting fires. Now, 76, when Sheets first signed on, firefighters were notified by a fire phone ringing at the home. The first out on a fire would sound the tuning fork on the steering wheel, which sent fire tones to the sheriff’s office.
“There was only one fireman at the station day and night and whoever was on duty would leave when the call came in,” Sheets said. “Other firemen would go directly to the fire from home or work. Once the fire was out, they would return to work.”
During his career, Sheets has survived several major fires, including the burning of William Street United Methodist Church in subzero temperatures and an explosion at Pennwalt Corporation, a chemical company.
“The truck was so covered in ice from the William Street Church fire that it took a few days to thaw out,” Sheets said. “The Pennwalt fire took the paint off the truck, and it had to be repainted. It disintegrated our fire gear, so we had to get new pants and jackets.”
Sheets served under four different chiefs while on the department and was assistant fire chief under Thurman Evans. The department was formerly known as the Five Townships Department and served Brown, Berlin, Delaware, Troy and the northern part of Liberty.
Years ago, there was no emergency medical services squad, so the funeral home would make runs to accident scenes with the hearse, Sheets said. Often, Sheets would transport patients via his station wagon to the hospital.
Current Tri-Township Fire Chief Troy Morris, who has served on the department for 20 years, said Sheets has been volunteering for years when he joined on for volunteer duty.
“The biggest thing is his history in the community, being knowledgeable and bringing his past experience into the department,” Morris said. “He brings a perspective on the way things have been, are and where they’re going.”
Sheets said he’s always lived his life putting in more than 100 percent and made a career from serving the community, whether it’s as a 4-H or Boy Scout leader, on the Delaware County Fair Board or on the Ohio Public Works Commission.
Sheets plans to continue serving the community. It might not sound as exciting as fighting fires, but it is fulfilling work for him, he said.
“I wanted to make it 50 years,” Sheets said. “If I could help out and keep the young guys from getting hurt, that’s what I wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to help out the community, so I’ll do the same things I do now, I just won’t go out on fire runs.”