Wellington County bunker gear to help Mexican fire department

Thanks to the dedication of a Rockwood man and the generosity of several Wellington County fire departments, dozens of Mexi­can firefighters will soon be safer on the job.
Last week, 41 full sets of bunker gear, as well as 10 pairs of bunker gear pants and other odds and ends like gloves, were picked up from the home of Bruno Lamarre in Rockwood.
Originally destined for Af­ghanistan, the bunker gear – the protective flame and heat resistant clothing worn by firefighters – has a new destination: Cadereyta, Mexico.
Lamarre, a full-time fire fighter in Mississauga and a former volunteer in Guelph-Eramosa, began collecting the used bunker gear about a year ago. And the response has been great, with departments from Wellington North, Mapleton, Guelph-Eramosa, Erin, and Grand Valley all contributing something.
Lamarre had talked with firefighters in Kandahar as well as the Canadian military’s Fire Marshall’s Office, and both groups were thrilled at the prospect of receiving the donation. However, a lot of  government “red tape” led Lamarre to look for another destination.
“It’s unfortunate it fell apart,” he said of his original idea. But it was not long before Lamarre and a colleague turned to Mexico.
Without Borders
Al Hills is a District Chief with the Mississauga department and one of a group of Mississauga firefighters who started Firefighters Without Borders. He said there is an unbelievable need for protective gear and other equipment in poverty-stricken areas in Mex­ico, South America and beyond.
“They are just so happy to receive it, because they don’t have anything,” Hills said, ad­ding the Wellington gear will be shipped to Mexico by the end of March.
Lamarre and Hills said fire departments in and around this county have been unbelievably supportive.
“One of the things we’re thankful for is that so many people are willing to help,” said Hills. “This area has been so generous.”
Lamarre said the bunker gear is used, but it is by no means tattered or torn. In fact, because standards in North America are so high, the gear – which can sell for up to $3,500 for a complete set – is in “really good condition.”
The total value of the used gear is probably about $12,000 to $15,000 Hills said, but it means much more than dollars and cents to the recipients.
“These are people that are trying to help themselves,” he said, noting the gear will bolster confidence and help motivate the Mexican department to make other improvements on its own.
“Our motto is to give a hand up, not a handout.”
Remembering Kevin
Hills explained that helping foreign fire departments is the best way to honour the memory of Kevin Bailey, a 34-year-old Mississauga firefighter who died several years ago during an off-duty rock climbing accident.
“It was his dream,” Hills said of Bailey’s humanitarian goals.
After the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, Mississauaga firefighters, like countless others across the globe, wanted to do something to help.
Several made a trip to Ground Zero in New York to support their comrades there, but after a while it became ap­parent there was more than enough help in that city.
So, to commemorate the victims of 9/11, the five-member A-shift of Station 114 in Mississauga decided to sponsor a child through World Vision.
The firefighters were having trouble picking a child from a table of photos, before Bailey finally decided on a boy from Indonesia. Two weeks later, Bailey died. And al­though the crew sponsors that child to this day, they wondered at the time how they could get more involved to honour Bailey’s memory.
They contacted World Vi­sion again and discovered that a recent fire in Ventanilla, Peru had left over 600 people homeless.
The firefighters felt an immediate connection to the Peruvian firefighters, and later travelled to the poverty-stricken area with donated equipment (including manual jaws of life) to train the department.
And they did not stop there.
Later, the group helped raise about $260,000 through World Vision to pipe in water to the region from Lima, providing the district with fresh drinking water for the first time. That also made things easier for the fire department there and lessened the burden on the district’s one ambulance, which serves around 200,000 people.
Global aspirations
Shipping the bunker gear do­nated from Wellington Coun­ty to Cadereyta, Mexico is part of the Firefighters Without Borders goal to help fellow firefighters, regardless of their location.
In November, the organization  plans to train firefighters in India on auto extrication.
“We hope that one day we can span the globe,” Hills said.
And if the recent donation from Wellington County is any indication, the group should have plenty of help along the way.
For more information visit firefighterswithoutborders.ca.