I have gotten a lot of questions over the past few years about our training and trips to Guatemala to train firefighters and rescue folks. I thought it might be good to go back to the beginning and take folks through the “journey” of the Guatemala experience. Because this would be a rather long article, I will put it out in parts each issue.
I learned a long time ago that articles do not need to be lengthy, or you may lose your readers. I hope you will find this an interesting read, so sit back and enjoy the journey.
During this past winter I received an email from Rodger Harrison, President of Paramedics for Children, about a mission trip to Guatemala. Paramedics for Children solicit used ambulances to be donated and then taken to Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala. They also run clinics for the children in these countries. The email I got was slightly different, it was asking for instructors to go to Guatemala and train a group of their rescue folks. They were also looking for a used rescue truck to be donated and equipment to go on that truck. I emailed my interest in the trip, 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 and my job was to put together the training program and outlines. Woody would work on assembling the team and we would both work on getting equipment donated. I was also looking at securing several slots on the team from our rescue staff. 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 was going to be a problem. After much thought and deliberation, Woody came to the conclusion 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 was to begin. 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 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 train. He informed me we would be training about 50. Now the real challenge begins.
First, I needed to put together a team of at least 12 instructors that would not only be qualified to teach vehicle extrication and rope rescue, but be flexible enough in their teaching to conform to whatever might get thrown at them. It also needed to be a group that could get along, as we would be spending an entire week together. The first place I looked was my own rescue team, as I know we have a great bunch of certified instructors, but 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 my guys willing to go. They were my technical captain, Luke Steele; technical lieutenant, Chuck Webb; water captain, Bo Medlin; water and training lieutenant, Shannon Orndorff; members, Jamie Smith, Craig Salvesen and Mike Arnold. Using their resources we were able to pick two more, Cory Strange from Rocky Mount Fire, and Mike Allen from Creedmoor Fire. I also asked Joe Mancos from Moore County EMS to join us, and he graciously accepted. The last person I wanted to include was a long time friend of mine who has taken many mission trips to Central America and other places, Bruce Pearce. I now had my 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 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 slow coming back. My email on the NCAFC got little response and it was apparent our team would have to push hard to make things happen. Having been in rescue for 34 years, 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 onboard with some stabilization struts. Turtle Cribbing followed with a set of plastic cribbing. Next, Sterling Rope helped out with ropes and accessory cords. REI and Southeastern Emergency Equipment donated pulleys, carabiners, eights and brake racks for the rigging pack. Agri-Supply donated a set of high-lift jacks, 60” pry bar, and a come along. Loop Road Auto Parts gave us two hydraulic bottle jacks as did Fleetpride. Mac Tools donated hand tools and an air wrench. Lowes gave us power cords, quartz light, sledge hammer, screw drivers, 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 one-half inch lifelines, webbing, two corded reciprocating saws, one cordless reciprocating saw, one cordless impact wrench, airline, haligan tool, Paratech tool, fire axe, five 2.2 old Scott air packs and purchased a new battery for the truck. We also acquired a used Phoenix hydraulic combination tool, cutter and portable power unit. We now had some good basic equipment to put on the donated rescue truck to train them with.
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. Jesus would be picking it up and making the long and tedious drive to Guatemala City. The truck was delivered to Gastonia, then Mike Arnold and I made the drive from Raleigh to bring it back. We then spent the weekend putting the donated equipment on the truck. We got the equipment loaded and mounted and returned the truck back to Gastonia on Monday, now ready for the trip to Guatemala.
The airline tickets were purchased and the team was preparing for the trip. Most of us had to get Hepatitis A shots, as well as our medications for typhoid. A tetanus booster was also needed. Most of the team members also had to get their passports. To make a good impression, I ordered all the members a jumpsuit and had them embroidered. I also had everyone four T-shirts screened, and got shirts from Rescue Jack, Sterling Rope, and Paramedics for Children. I also got hats from Sterling Rope and Rescue Jack for us to wear. The plan was to wear different shirts each day so we stayed looking professional and as a team. The jumpsuits were our meet and greet attire. Everything was now falling into place as we continued to try and bring in donations for the trip. Each team member had to cover the cost of their airfare, shots and passports. We did get a few donations to help offset the cost, but not many. Hopefully next year we will do better with the donations.
The truck was on its way 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 Rodger and Silva. Silva was our liaison from Guatemala. 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 destination Guatemala. We arrived at Raleigh Durham Airport at 6:15 a.m. on Sunday, August 1, 2009 , ready for our 7:30 a.m. flight to Atlanta, then on to Guatemala.
Next issue I will bring you into Guatemala, and the training we did there the first year. I am looking forward to bringing everyone this amazing journey of training, friendship and brotherhood; something that has no boundaries. Please stay safe out there, and remember the jobs you do never go unnoticed.