by Nicole Brodzik
Every five years, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) sets new equipment standards for all fire departments in the United States every five years. This means, every five years, fire departments are budgeting for new equipment and getting rid of equipment that’s been outdated. Generally, that equipment ends up in a landfill.
This year, the Mound Fire Department’s outdated gear made it’s way to Columbia in overstuffed duffle bags on the backs of local missionaries.
“We donated about eight full sets of gear and some other pieces,” Mound Fire Chief Greg Pederson said. “We either gave them away to people who could use them, or we throw them away.”
Dean Mooney was police chief for the former Mound Police Department before they merged with Orono police. He approached Pederson about taking old equipment off their hands before he went down to Caucasia, Columbia to help build recording studios with his church.
“He asked if we had excess helmets or boots or bunker jackets,” Pederson said. “At the time, we had just replaced all 40 firefighters gear to get up to our current standards, so we boxed up the pieces that were still functional. The firefighters thought it was really cool.”
Pederson estimated that each set of turnout gear costs around $2,500, with helmets and boots coming in around $250 and $150 respectively. Each firefighter in the Mound Fire Department has two sets of gear, and now all of it is compliant. But that doesn’t mean the outdated gear isn’t useful, especially for places like the Caucasia Fire Department where their equipment consisted of plastic helmets, two fire hoses, a fire truck and an ambulance. Their emergency operation center is a tent.
Mooney took the gear with him to Columbia in May. He said he felt a calling to help the people of Caucasia as a part of the missionary group.
“It’s not just about spreading the bible to these people,” Mooney said. “You don’t ignore human needs, it’s about doing both.”
When Mooney arrived in Columbia, he and his fellow missionaries packed all of their duffle bags into two Ford Fiestas and drove from the airport to the rural, tribal village of Caucasia. They spent the night at the home of a Caucasia firefighter, unpacking their vehicles and getting some sleep. During the night, firefighters from the department came to the house to see their new gear.
“There was one guy who had wanted a real helmet all his life,” Mooney said. “He came over while we were all asleep to try it on and they took the gear back to the station. It was like Christmas and New Years and a birthday all in one.”
The equipment they had didn’t allow he Caucasia Fire Department to make much of an impact when they were able to get to a fire, which regularly takes up to 45 minutes. The time between a call coming in and firefighters arriving on scene in Mound is closer to six minutes.
Pederson said that in 45 minutes, a modern home in Mound would be burnt to the ground, with a smoldering pile of ashes sitting in what used to be a basement. By that time, fires would undoubtedly spread to nearby buildings as well. With their old equipment, the Columbian fire fighters wouldn’t be able to get close enough to make an impact on the burn.
“The helmets they had were like construction hard hats,” Pederson said. “They would protect you from the shock if something fell on you, but they would probably just melt in that kind of heat. Now, with this gear, they can aggressively attack fire situations. You just can’t do that in civilian clothing.”
Pederson said that he wouldn’t hesitate to offer up more gear after their next round of replacements at the Mound Fire Department if Mooney was willing to take more down for them.
“There’s a special bond between firefighters,” Mooney said. “These firefighters in Caucasia were in tears. They were so shocked that people from America would care at all about helping out tribal people. It means so much to them.”