City firefighters provide donations to san jose de ocoa, Dominican department in need
A trip two Hazleton firefighters took to help a struggling fire department in a small Caribbean town in late January has turned into one of the farthest reaching collections in Hazleton Fire Department history.
It has also linked perfect strangers for the purpose of saving lives.
When Deputy Fire Chief Shawn Jones and Firefighter Jose Melo were called to San Jose de Ocoa in the Dominican Republic earlier this year, it was to help provide hands on assistance to the city’s fire department, which was manned with eager but underequipped firefighters. Jones said he and Melo quickly found the department had next to no working equipment, including a water pumper truck. They also found another ailing fire department in neighboring Sabana Larga, about five miles away from Ocoa, that was in a similar situation.
Jones said the eye-opening, week-long trip gave him a first-hand account of how troubled some fire departments around the world are.
In San Jose de Ocoa, there are no hydrants to provide a water source to extinguish fires, its fire vehicles are beyond repair and firefighters’ protective gear would never meet safety requirements in the United States, he said. Even basic tools typically found in American households are non-existent, Jones said, adding that most of the firefighting equipment, including vehicles, isn’t even sold in the country.
Melo, originally from Ocoa, was so struck by the ailing department’s condition that he and Jones decided to try and do something to help them out back home. Both men related their experiences to the Hazleton Fire Department and organized a collection of used, yet functional equipment to send overseas to San Jose de Ocoa and Sabana Larga.
They enlisted help from area departments and from its own fire department and in a relatively short amount of time, the first shipment of supplies is ready to be sent to firefighters in need.
“We couldn’t promise them anything, but I think we got a good response from the places heard from,” Jones said.
On Sunday, a 1979 American LaFrance pumper truck left its previous station in New York and headed for Hazleton. It was the largest item involved in the Hazleton Fire Department’s San Jose de Ocoa collection.
Peter Coats and his son Shane delivered the truck, taking the 175-mile trip from their station in Mecklenburg, N.Y., to Hazleton’s Southside station on Broad Street.
Peter said the pumper which already responded to over 1,000 incidents since it was made, was in service with his department up until one year ago when the fire company received a new piece of equipment to retire it. He said the company is glad that the pumper will continue to fight fires.
“We’re happy it’s being put to good use,” he said.
Amilcar Arroyo, Hazleton resident, who also joined the collection efforts said money is still being collected to pay for the pumper truck. He said between $3,000 and $4,000 is still needed. Arroyo said tax-deductible donations can be made to the collection by calling him at 570-956-9488. Local businesses, he said, donated enough money to take care of the firefighters’ meal and hotel costs while they are in town.
Jones said the group will continue to collect things for the department until its needs are met. Rattling off a list of items already donated, Mandak said, self contained breaking apparatus were donated by Nuremberg Ambulance, Diamond Fire Co. and Weatherly. Pittston Township Volunteer Fire Co. donated 2,500 to 3,000 feet of 1½-and 2½-inch hose with fittings and nozzles, Jones said. Additional self-contained breathing apparatus and turnout gear came from the Hanover area, hoses and nozzles came from Luzerne County Community College Public Safety Training Institute, and the Hazleton City Fireman’s Relief Association donated outdated equipment taken out of inventory. Equipment also came from other emergency service departments in the area. Though the equipment is old and no longer able to be used by United States federal regulations, Jones said, the San Jose de Ocoa and Sabana Larga department’s will make use of it.
The new pumper that also includes tools will board a cargo ship and arrive in San Jose de Ocoa within five weeks, Melo said. But before the truck is ocean bound, three firefighters from San Jose de Ocoa and one from Sabana Larga will be trained on it in Hazleton. In fact, Hazleton Fire Department members helped arrange training for the four Dominican firefighters while they stay in Hazleton for about one week. They will arrive Thursday and leave April 5.
While in town they will also receive firefighter training at the Luzerne County Community College Public Safety Training institute, Nanticoke, Deputy Fire Chief Brian Mandak, who will instruct the classes, said. Firefighters will also be trained in fire exercises with vehicles donated by Kress’s and Zenier’s Towing, he said.
Hazleton firefighters are also helping Savanna Larga with repairs to its pumper truck by email and phone, trying to help them troubleshoot repairs, thousands of miles away. Hazleton Fire Chief Donald Leshko said there is a leak in the department’s pumper truck.
The project has allowed firefighters another opportunity to help someone in need, Leshko said, noting if Melo and Jones never went to San Jose de Ocoa to see the fire department’s condition, they never would have been able to understand just how bad the firefighters have it.
Melo said those in San Jose de Ocoa are happy to learn that people in America, more specifically in Hazleton are coming to their aide.
Leshko said one thing all firefighters have in common is protecting the lives of others and because of that will often help each other out when possible.
“If it saves one life, then it’s all worth it,” Leshko said.
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