Central Alberta firefighters help out Paraguayan counterparts

Central Alberta firefighters help out Paraguayan counterparts

Lacombe and Ponoka firefighters donate equipment and expertise to help firefighters in Paraguay

Central Alberta firefighters have a hand in saving lives a continent away.

Lacombe Firefighters Association began a fire engine donation campaign for Paraguay with a single truck last year. It was a life changer for firefighters in the community of Caazapá, who had no fire truck and little other equipment to tackle fires.

A second was shipped to the South American this past summer and two more pumpers have already been lined up as future donations. Besides the trucks, crates of donated equipment from fire departments around the province have been sent to grateful colleagues in Paraguay.

“When we started we had the intentions of making it a sustainable project, but you’re never really sure,” said Lacombe deputy fire chief Drayton Bussiere.

“We’re getting to the point where we’ve had some success and I think we’re going to continue to have success. We plan on keeping going until we run out of equipment to give.”

Bentley has already offered a pumper and Lacombe has one of its own that is soon to be retired. As well, donations of equipment and bunker gear continue to come in.

Since the first trip to Paraguay with a donated truck from Clive, there has been no shortage of applications from fire departments that would love to outfit their volunteers.

“Word has definitely spread,” said Bussiere.

Bussiere was in Paraguay in June with Lacombe Fire Lieut. Uwe Kurth, who was raised in Paraguay and was instrumental in getting the donation program going. Ponoka Deputy Chief Kelsey Hycha also went to help train Paraguayan firefighters and to represent his department, which has joined Lacombe in raising funds and donating equipment.

A fire engine from Mirror and two crates full of equipment were sent to the community of Artigas, which is about 100 km from Caazapá. A third crate was divided up between two other fire departments in the same area.

Artigas had no fire truck at all and only four of its volunteer firefighters had protective bunker gear, he said.

“When we left, the entire department was fully outfitted with bunker gear and had a fire truck with a bunch equipment and stuff on it. So it’s a pretty drastic change that we’re making in a pretty short period of time.”

Since then, Lacombe has also sent a retired pickup truck to a Paraguayan forestry fire department.

“Down there, (the truck) has got another lifetime to live,” he said.

The next community to be outfitted has not yet been chosen. Applications are still coming in and planning and fundraising will take place for the next trip south.

Lacombe and Ponoka firefighters will raise about $10,000 to $15,000 and the recipient community needs to raise $20,000 to $25,000 to cover shipping costs.