The Guatemala Connection: The Journey Begins

By David Pease

It is interesting how we sometimes find ourselves involved in things we would have never imagined ourselves in until we are there. That is exactly what happened back in 2009 when I received an email from an organization called Paramedics for Children, run by Rodger Harrison. Paramedics for Children is a non-profit group that works with children on the medical side in Guatemala and Honduras. They ran clinics and were sending down donated ambulances. They would also ask for medics to volunteer to go down and help as well. The email I got was slightly different though, it was asking for Instructors to go to Guatemala and train a group of their rescue folks. They were hoping to acquire a used rescue truck to be donated, and equipment to go on that truck. I emailed that I may be interested, along with my resume, and waited to see what would happen. 

Several months later I was contacted by Woody Sullivan of Pender County EMS and Rescue. He was donating their used rescue truck and had become the mission team leader. After several conversations and emails, he asked if I would serve as co-leader. I graciously accepted the position. My job was to put together the training program and outlines.  He would work on assembling the team and we would both work on getting equipment donated. I was also looking to secure several slots on the mission team from our rescue team. We had several conversations and then it was time to look at when we would go.

It was soon established that the time frame would be in late July or August, rather than in early June as once thought. This was going to put a major wrench in the trip for Woody, as school and work were going to be a problem. After much thought and deliberation, Woody realized he would not be able to make this mission trip. With much regret, he called me and asked if I would take over as team leader for the mission. I accepted, and soon the “real” fun began. I now had to put together my team and get as much rescue equipment donated for the truck as possible before we left in August. I put several emails out for equipment along with several articles. After Woody had talked with me, he advised Rodger of his situation. I soon got a call from Rodger, and he gladly welcomed me as the new Team Leader. I ascertained from him what training they needed, what they already knew, and how many folks we would be training. He informed me we would be training about 50. Now came the real challenge.

First, I needed to put together a team of at least 12 Instructors that would be qualified to teach vehicle extrication and rope rescue and be flexible enough in their teaching to conform to whatever might get thrown at us. It also needed to be a group that could get along, as we would be spending nine days together. The first place I looked was my own rescue team, as I know we had a great bunch of qualified Instructors. I also knew we would not have enough Instructors to make up the mission team. I put the word out to my folks and within a fairly short time had eight of our members willing to go. Using our resources, we were able to gather an additional four instructors. I now had our mission team put together, although it did take a little longer than I just made it sound.

Next, I put together a list of equipment I felt we needed to get by with for the truck. Knowing they had virtually no extrication equipment and very little rope equipment, the list was not hard to put together. I put some feelers out, but things were still slowly coming back. Having been in rescue for quite a while, (and I shall leave it at that), I have made a lot of contacts and friends, so it was time to start making some calls. Rescue Jack was the first to come on board with some stabilization struts. Turtle Cribbing followed with a set of plastic cribbing. Sterling Rope helped with ropes and accessory cords. REI and Southeastern Emergency Equipment donated pulleys, carabiners, descenders, and brake racks for the rigging pack. Agri-Supply donated a set of high-lift jacks, a 60” pry bar, and a come-along. Loop Road Auto Parts gave us two hydraulic bottle jacks.  Mac Tools donated hand tools and an air wrench. Lowes gave us power cords, quartz lights, sledgehammers, screwdrivers, pry bars, and hacksaws. Bosch put in 100 reciprocating blades, and Hudson’s Hardware of Garner threw in a 36-inch pair of bolt cutters. Rocky Mount Fire rounded up some air pack frames, power cords, lights, gloves, hand tools, and several helmets. The Reds Team kicked in two stokes baskets, four stainless steel pulleys, (four) ½” lifelines, webbing, two corded reciprocating saws, one cordless reciprocating saw, one cordless impact wrench, an airline, a halligan tool, a Paratech tool, fire ax, (five) 2.2 old Scott air packs, and purchased a new battery for the truck. We also acquired a used Phoenix hydraulic combination tool, a cutter, and a portable power unit. We now had some good basic equipment to put on the donated rescue truck and train them with. This was way more equipment than anyone department had.

Our time was drawing near, and we needed to get the truck to our station so we could get the equipment on it and ready for the “drive” to Guatemala. That’s right, the truck was going to be picked up in Gastonia, North Carolina, and driven to Guatemala.  A fellow from Guatemala would be picking it up and making the long and tedious drive to Guatemala City. The truck was delivered to Gastonia, where we picked it up and brought it back to Garner. We spent the weekend putting all the donated equipment on the truck. Once the equipment was loaded and mounted, we returned the truck back to Gastonia on that Monday, now ready for the trip to Guatemala.  

The truck was finally on its way there, and we were now ready to make the trip. It was only a week before we were scheduled to fly out when I got an email from Paramedics for Children. They informed me that the truck had transmission problems and was stranded in Mexico. This now became a problem, not knowing if the truck would make it to Guatemala by the time we arrived. We were asked if the truck didn’t make it, could we change our flights. However, this was not going to be an option, so plan B was to have a pickup truck go to Mexico and get the equipment off the truck and take it back to Guatemala. Luckily, they got the truck repaired and it was now on its way to Guatemala. We arrived at Raleigh Durham Airport at 6:15 a.m. on Sunday, August the 1st, ready for our 7:30 a.m. flight to Atlanta, then on to Guatemala. 

Stay tuned for upcoming journals, as I take you on a journey that has, and continues to make a huge difference in the Fire/Rescue/EMS services in a small third-world country. We do continue to take donations of equipment and vehicles to send down as well.  

David Pease, Chief
The Reds Team

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