Volunteer helps old fire equipment get to Nicaragua
Americans take it for granted that if their house catches fire, a firetruck will be there quickly to put it out, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the case in Nicaragua.
It could be close to an hour before a truck arrives — if one comes at all. The firefighters might not have oxygen equipment to be able to enter a home and save someone, and they might even be wearing just street clothes. If someone is injured in the fire, the victim might be taken to a hospital in the back of a pickup truck rather than an ambulance.
That’s what Warner Robins native Rodney McDonald learned when he spent two years working in Nicaragua for the Peace Corps. Now he is working to change that.
He founded Emergency Response Services For Latin America 12 years ago in Warner Robins. The nonprofit group gathers donated, surplus emergency equipment and supplies from around the U.S. and Canada and delivers it via the Air Force to Nicaragua.
McDonald was an agriculture volunteer for the Peace Corps, and he knew nothing about emergency response, but because emergency services were so lacking there he frequently found himself rendering aid at the scene of wrecks and fires.
“I saw a lot of car wrecks and things happening and saw the firefighters didn’t have what they needed and didn’t know what they were doing,” he said.
He eventually became a paramedic and does that today in Atlanta.
On Sunday, after a three-day trip, six volunteers delivered three firetrucks and two ambulances from British Columbia, Canada, to Warner Robins. The vehicles came from Operation Nicaragua, a Canadian organization similar to McDonald’s, that lost its means of shipping the vehicles.
Now local volunteer Dave Curry will prepare the vehicles, along with a large amount of other equipment and gear, for shipment to Nicaragua through the Denton Program. Denton allows charity groups to use available space on Air Force aircraft to deliver humanitarian aid. The Air Force crews need the training, McDonald said, and by having the humanitarian aid, it helps get permission to land in countries that might otherwise not grant it.
All of the vehicles are in full working order, including the pumps on the fire trucks. The oldest fire truck is a 1984 International that looks like it could be in a museum, but Curry said it will be prized by firefighters in Nicaragua. Most vehicles there are old, so they know all about how to keep that year model running.
“They are so grateful and they love that year truck,” he said as he stood in front of the vehicles parked at a farm Monday. “They can modify and change parts if they need to. It’s a win-win situation.”
McDonald said Nicaraguan firefighters are mechanical whizzes who can work wonders with vehicles that don’t rely on computers as more modern vehicles do. Many vehicles in use in Nicaragua date back to World War II.
The vehicles to be donated will be here a few weeks while Curry, who is retired from the remodeling business, works to complete paperwork and packaging on the shipment. The organization has an office and staff member in Nicaragua who works to identify the fire departments most in need and to provide the proper training on the equipment. They also have an education program that has reduced child deaths and injury in fires by 27 percent, Curry said.
Besides the vehicles, McDonald said the current load to be delivered includes about 20 tons of firefighting gear, including hoses, turnout gear and other equipment.