Mutual Aid International
‘It All Starts With the Gear’
The story of Mutual Aid International really starts with the fire gear. The first firefighter I met in my trip to Guatemala that was trying to raise money, was trying to raise money for essential supplies. Therefore the first thing I could think to get for them was gear. Let me explain why fire gear was my first instinct. When you become a firefighter, the very first thing issued to you is gear. It is what makes you a firefighter. We’re just normal people, but when you put the gear on you can do extraordinary things. The fire gear is rated for temperatures up to 500 degrees. You’re still hot, you feel the heat but you have confidence in your gear that you can accomplish your job. We have a saying, “risk a little to save a little, risk a lot to save a lot.” So that just means we don’t care how hot we are, we are willing to lay down our life for someone that is helpless. We have the gear to do the job, so we have the responsibility to help those that are in need. But almost more importantly than the function of gear, is the great pride and value to you. Another saying we are fond of is that, “your coat has two names on it” — your family name and your department name — make them both proud, represent well.
So fire gear is the supply I thought was most needed. Here in the states we operate under the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) it’s our governing body that makes up all the rules that we have to follow. One of the rules is that fire gear has to be retired from service after 10 years. This is because fire gear degrades both by use and proximity to flame as well as by general fading over time. Therefore after a certain amount of time, fire gear is no longer safe for us to use. We don’t mean to discount the scientific tests and evidence that has been conducted to develop such a regulation requirement, but we do not feel that all firefighters and gear are created equally. What I can tell you that not every firefighter has a job that is like Chicago Fire or Backdraft. While good documentary film pieces (wink!) they are not exactly true for every firefighter. Saving babies while hanging out of windows with flames rolling over your head does happen, it just might be more rare that every other Tuesday. Getting cats out of trees doesn’t seem to put too much wear and tear on your gear! So that means that sometimes the gear that has to be retired might still be in really good condition. But by law cities have to dispose of them because of the liability. If one of their members was to get hurt there could be financial repercussions on top of the emotional toll. Insert Mutual Aid International. Instead of throwing that gear away, we ask as many departments that are willing to donate it to our organization. All the gear that we have and take to Guatemala — we have and will wear ourselves. We have received some sets of donated gear that are in very questionable condition. We will not take those items and give it to the very hard working Bomberos.
The fire departments in Guatemala rely heavily on volunteer participation because they receive precious little government funding. The best way to keep and solicit volunteers is to give them the gear that helps them to do their job, as well as giving them the feeling of pride of a being a firefighter.
It all starts with the gear.
This type of repurposing fire gear really speaks to the heart of what Mutual Aid wants to accomplish with our charity. If we can come together with mutual dedication to help Guatemalan bomberos get the supplies and sustainable skills needed to safely protect lives, we can accomplish great things. More than anything, when we ship or take protective fire gear and supplies to Guatemala, the bomberos are grateful and feel that they can accomplish greater things in their country. Since Guatemala is so full of corruption, when we offer our friendship and present a Mutual Aid partnership between our two countries, the Bomberos develop a sense of trust and hope and family.
Our mission is simple: the bomberos are our brothers and sisters and our brothers and sisters have a great need, so we help them. We don’t feel there is any other choice, but to help them.
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