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Ready to assist others in the wake of disaster

Thu., Jan. 6, 2005, midnight

Darrin Coldiron and Nick Muzik are firefighters.

They don’t deliberate in the face of disaster.

They act fast, even if the disaster is a tsunami that has killed 155,000 people in Asia.

Within the course of a few days, Coldiron and Muzik have prepared to travel to Sri Lanka as a self-contained, two-man aid team. They hope to use their medical training and building skills to help people whose lives have been torn apart by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

“If we can make a large impact on a small group, then that will be a success,” said Muzik, a paramedic with the Spokane Valley Fire Department.

On Friday, Coldiron got a call from Bjorn Nabozney, one of the founders of the Big Sky Brewing Company in Montana.

Nabozney wanted to help with the tsunami aid effort, but didn’t think his beer-making skills would do much good. The two know a Sri Lankan named Nuwan Waidyanatha from playing rugby at the University of Montana. The Sri Lankan wasn’t killed in the tsunami but has friends and family who are missing.

To Nabozney, Sri Lanka seemed like a good place to help and Coldiron seemed like the guy to go because of his medical training.

“He’s the perfect person to send over there,” Nabozney said. “He’s such a giving character.”

The brewery paid for Coldiron’s $2,200 plane ticket and for money to help him get around Sri Lanka. Firefighters and others pitched in money to help Muzik get a ticket.

After Nabozney made the offer, Coldiron, 35, swung into action. He called the Sri Lankan Red Cross. Another Sri Lankan has helped get them in-country connections as well as arrange travel to the regions hit by the tsunami, Coldiron said.

He also talked Muzik into joining him. Muzik’s passport has expired so he’s using FedEx and a courier service to speed up getting a new one. He hopes it arrives by Saturday morning, when he’s scheduled to fly out. Coldiron leaves Friday.

Coldiron and Muzik made sure they had a tent and enough rations to feed themselves while in Sri Lanka. They don’t want to further strain the country’s resources, Coldiron said.

In Sri Lanka, more than 30,000 people have died and 800,000 have been displaced by the tsunami, making the country the hardest-hit nation after Indonesia, according to The Associated Press.

Word has spread quickly of the firefighters’ plan. Valley Fire’s benevolent association gave them $500, and individual firefighters pitched in more money. They got medical supplies donated from Norco. Mountain Gear also helped and the Liberty Lake Athletic Club – where Coldiron occasionally teaches yoga – collected donations as well.

People have also been bringing stuff to Big Sky Brewing in Missoula. Nabozney will drive the donations to Spokane tonight. Big Sky Brewing, famous for its Moose Drool beer, will also give them brewery t-shirts and cigarettes they can use to barter with if they can’t get money, Nabozney said.

Coldiron emptied his bank account to help pay his expenses because he wants all the donated money to go to supplies.

“I’m going, but it’s because of all these people that have been incredibly selfless. They’ve really entrusted me with a lot,” Coldiron said.

Each day firefighters come to work prepared to deal with catastrophe. It’s not surprising the Valley firefighters wanted to help Sri Lankans, said Spokane Valley Fire Department Chief Mark Grover.

“That’s what firefighters do,” Grover said. “It’s one of the things I admire about the profession.”

The department let the firefighters switch their vacation days around and has allowed colleagues to donate time off as well.

Muzik will stay in Sri Lanka two weeks. Coldiron plans to return Feb. 4, but said he’ll change his return date if he needs to.

“It’s happening very fast, but it needs to,” Coldiron said. “I need to feel I’m doing something useful in society, and to me that doesn’t extend to just American society.”


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