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Only In Indiana: More fire trucks

It is interesting how when it comes to helping people, some see only walls while others see bridges. One Crawfordsville man has spent his life building bridges.

CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. (WTHR) - Most school kids are always waiting for the bell to sound. These kids, however, are anxious for the alarm.

It gives them a chance to gear up to fight a fire. It's all part of the firefighter cadet program at Southmont High School. It's comprised of students from Western Boone, North Montgomery, South Montgomery and Crawfordsville.

"It's an awesome opportunity for us," student Olivia Richardson shared.

Claude Johnson, 77 (WTHR Photo/Josh Blankenship)

It's an opportunity made possible by 77-year-old Claude Johnson. With the help of his Rotary Club in Crawfordsville, he has donated 19 old, destined-for-the-scrap-heap fire trucks for a second life at saving lives.

"Young America, Darlington, Crawfordsville fire. Jackson gave us a fire truck. Then Attica the very first fire truck came from," Claude's son Chris showed us.

"It's taking something that would be in a landfill or scrap heap away from our landfills and putting it to good use," Brandy Smith a co-worker at Johnson and Williamson Insurance in Crawfordsville noted.

"I had a truck from New Castle, a firefighter who bought the truck for $2,500 and gave it to me," Claude Johnson shared, shaking his head in disbelief.

And that truck went to Mexico and so did 18 others, delivered to communities that did not have a fire department.

"The number of people alive because of what dad started and the houses that are not burned down, people who are not burned or have a chance to survive. It's a big deal," Chris Johnson said.

Three retired firetrucks that will either be donated by Claude Johnson for communities in Mexico that don't have an active fire department, or used as part of a firefighter cadet program here in Indiana. (WTHR Photo/Josh Blankenship)

"With the amount of trucks and where they went, the towns they went to, the area covered that we are protecting 800,000 people out there. We are proud of that and one of these days we will all be gone and it will be good to know we made a difference in this world somehow," Claude Johnson added.

Especially when your doctor says you have six months to a year to live.

"When you see an end in sight, it gives you a different outlook on things," the elder Johnson observed.

He is suffering from Stage 5 kidney disease.

"I just wear out," Claude shared. And yet he is out every day, continuing to benefit his community - even though there are a lot of other things he could be doing with his final six months to a year.

"Sure, but I can't think of anything more satisfying than this."

"What else do you want at the end of your life but to know what you did mattered. So it mattered you know," Brandy Smith said.

"He cared to the bone," Chris added.

"A friend of mine said, 'We are going to build a statue of you down here,' and I said, 'No, if you have enough money to build a statue then we need to get some more fire trucks'," Claude said with a laugh.

That is why he is sitting here watching these kids work on this fire truck - because he wants to see what the future will look like without him.

Just so you know, Claude says Rotary has already set up a chain of succession to make sure the program will continue after he has passed on.

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