A quarter-of-a-century old fire truck was loaded up at Robins Air Force Base on Thursday, bound on a flight to Nicaragua over the New Year, as part of a U.S. Air Force Reserve training and aid mission.
The mission was partially coordinated by former Bonaire resident Rodney McDonald, who works with the Emergency Response Services for Latin America and has helped organize similar relief missions in the past.
“It’s a pretty needed piece of equipment in that part of the world,” McDonald said in an e-mail to The Telegraph.
Reservists from the 315th Airlift Wing from Joint Base Charleston, formerly Charleston Air Force Base, in South Carolina, flew into Robins Thursday morning on a C-17 Globemaster III, said U.S. Air Force Reserve Capt. Christine Hoggatt, relief mission spokeswoman temporarily stationed at Robins.
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The C-17 picked up a 1984 E-One model fire truck, along with more than three tons of medical supplies and other equipment on the four-day missison, according to an Air Force release.
Hoggatt said the flight was a training mission, and that the crew would drop off the equipment in Nicaragua, proceed to Panama for crew rest and to pick up cargo, then return to Charleston.
The Rev. Jim McIlrath, senior minister at Christ United Methodist Church in Warner Robins, led the group of volunteers that prepared the equipment for shipping. McIlrath said the flight left Robins about 1:30 p.m. Thursday and was due in Managua, Nicaragua, that evening.
“It’s been a great thing to see happen,” McIlrath said. “After a day to catch our breath, I think we’ll be ready to start all over on the next load.”
The equipment included helmets, masks, breathing apparatus, gloves, hoses -- “the whole shooting match,” McIrath said.
The truck was donated by the Brindle Mountain Apparatus volunteer fire department, in Union Grove, Ala., and was hauled to Robins this month on a flatbed truck.
The firefighters there volunteered their time and had to move the fire truck on a flatbed trailer because insurance for a one day journey to Warner Robins would have been costly, McDonald said.
It took 18 months for ERSLA, a charity formed by firefighters in Bend, Ore., to raise money and gather the equipment for the Nicaraguan firefighters, McDonald said.
The Byron Fire Department donated equipment and helped transport the truck to the base Tuesday.
R&S Industrial Supply, located on Ga. 247 in Bonaire, provided storage space for the truck and equipment while it was awaiting transport.
Moving the equipment and truck cost about $3,000, McDonald said, but the Air Force flight was provided free of charge under a law passed by former Sen. Jeremiah Denton, of Alabama, known as the Denton Act, which allows transportation of humanitarian assistance on military aircraft if the cargo is more than 2,000 pounds.
The cargo can only be loaded if there is space available, or “Space-A” in military speak. A fully loaded C-17 can carry about 170,000 pounds of cargo.
“The only way we are able to do this with the Denton program is if it is a (space available) training mission,” Hoggatt said last week.
“We happen to have two of these scheduled this weekend. One to Nicaragua with the fire truck, and the other is to Haiti and Grenada.”
Another C-17 will take about $67,000 in medical and school supplies to Haiti, and $25,000 in supplies to Grenada, according to an Air Force news release.
To contact writer Shelby G. Spires, call 744-4494. Telegraph correspondent Michael W. Pannell contributed to this report.