Pa. police chief finds hobby supporting firefighters
Chief William Bilinski has custom painted fire helmet shields for those in the fire service for over 14 years
DICKSON CITY, Pa. — Late in August, William Bilinski sat at the workbench in the top-floor office of his Dickson City home surrounded by reminders of his love for Philadelphia sports and pictures of his family.
The window was open so the paint fumes could ventilate. He could hear the sound of his two young boys playing police in the backyard — mimicking their father, who is the borough police chief. Chief Bilinski focused on the 6-inch leather shield in his one hand and the slow and steady movement of a thin paintbrush in his other. He traced a line on the gold-leaf inlaid fire helmet shield.
“It’s therapy,” he said.
Painting custom fire helmet shields, sometimes called “furnace shields” by those in the fire service, has been Chief Bilinski’s hobby since 2001, a year after he became a volunteer firefighter. He learned the trade from his grandfather, who painted signs.
“It’s a dying art because now you can go online, firefighters can go online, chiefs can go online, and within maybe a week or so they can have one of these,” Chief Bilinski said. “But it’s not the traditional hand-laid. It’s a piece of vinyl that has the gold leaf on it, and it’s screen printed over, like a T-shirt. It doesn’t have that personal touch.”
That personal touch is what Jim Richardson wanted when he contacted Chief Bilinski for a shield.
“It looks custom and hand done, gives it some character,” said the battalion chief with the Derry Fire Department in New Hampshire. “That’s what I was looking for.”
Chief Bilinski was just putting the finishing touches on Battalion Chief Richardson’s shield. The gold leaf gleamed in the light. Three shamrocks adorned the top.
By Aug. 28, the chief had posted the finished product to his Facebook page, “Gold Leaf Furnace Piece,” which draws requests from all over the country, including many local fire companies. He has done hundreds of shields but charges only for his costs.
“It gives you a little bit of personalization,” Chief Bilinski said. “Your own flair, your own personality.”
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