As two Peruvian firefighters stood nearby, Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer settled his gaze on a cluster of boxes in the middle of a large hangar at the fire department’s training facility near Spokane Community College.
“I’m gonna donate all of that to them,” he said Thursday afternoon, pointing to the half dozen boxes of coats, pants and boots. “And probably a firetruck.”
The equipment – all “expired,” as far as NFPA safety codes and standards are concerned – are at least 10 years old and can no longer be used by the city’s fire crews. The fire engine, or engines if the Peruvian government can raise enough money to ship both to South America, are at least 20 years old and have already been retired as out of service.
Rather than scrap the trucks for metal, or dump the clothing in a trash heap, two representatives of Peru’s volunteer fire departments made the trek to Spokane to accept the donation. They’ll likely be shipped in June or July, said Deputy Fire Chief Mark John, once city approval is finalized.
“You are Americans,” said Peru fire official Jorge Gomez, who heads the province of San Martin’s firefighting efforts. “You are brothers.”
Gomez came to Spokane two days prior with Kurt Coechle Duarte, a young man from Oxapampa, a small ranching and coffee-producing town in the Pasco region of Peru. The two were invited to speak at a Washington State Council of Fire Fighters union conference at the Davenport Hotel on Post Street this week.
On Thursday, they made their way to the Spokane Fire Department’s training center, where they were taken aback by the scale of the new equipment. As Gomez explained it, all 70,000 firefighters in Peru are volunteer and do not earn a penny for their work.
“It’s all here,” he said, pointing to his chest.
“He does it because he loves,” finished Jerry Lease of Station 8, who helped with translating Spanish.
Altogether, the Spokane Fire Department is sending 15 sets of clothing, including coats and gear, about 10 pairs of boots and several brush coats.
Tim Archer, president of the Spokane Firefighters Union, said even though the clothing is not up to NFPA code, it would last for at least two more decades before showing severe wear and tear.
John said Peru and the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters have had a longstanding relationship. In 2009, the city also donated two firetrucks to Guatemala.
“It’s wonderful to us,” John said. “The United States is very, very fortunate with the amount of equipment and funding we have to provide services.”
On March 31, firefighters in Gomez’s province battled a bus fire that killed 20 people. In addition to the increased safety that new clothing would provide, he said new firetrucks would help his volunteers better do their job.
“I believe in the future,” he said. “We do it the best we can.”
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