A ladder truck that once belonged to the Fleming Fire Department is now aiding life-saving efforts in Ecuador.
The truck was donated to firefighters in the Ecuadorian city of Machala through the Gear Up Foundation, a Westchester County-based organization that donates equipment and training to firefighters in South American countries, after Gear Up founder Vincent Forras had a chance meeting with former Fleming fire Deputy Chief Andy Campbell who was working as a state trooper in New York City.
The nearly 30-year-old truck, while still in working condition, was becoming expensive and difficult to maintain and insure because of its age, Fleming Fire Department Chief Scott Kehoe said. In 2016, the department got a federal grant to purchase a new truck. A stipulation of the grant, Kehoe said, was that the department either had to scrap the old truck or send it to a foreign country. Fleming also donated other gear and equipment along with the truck.
"When (Campbell) had mentioned this town in Ecuador was in dire need of a truck like that, our membership decided, absolutely let's get it to them," Kehoe said. "It's an honor to help fire departments across the world that are in need and I encourage other departments to do the same if they have the ability."
Fleming worked with Har-Rob Fire Apparatus to get the truck ready to ship by sea, Kehoe said. The truck arrived in Ecuador at the end of June. But the process to get it there was long and expensive, Forras said. Shipping costs alone were over $20,000, he said, and it took over two weeks for the truck to make its way to Ecuador via boat.
Fleming's truck was part of Gear Up's largest donation in its 17-year history, Forras said. The foundation brought four trucks and thousands of dollars worth of equipment to Ecuador, as well as a team of American firefighters who volunteered to train the Ecuadorian "bomberos" — firefighters — on how to use the new equipment. They also brought hope, Forras said.
"These guys, up until we come along, really don't have much hope," Forras said. "This gives them hope and pride, that there are people who care about how they're doing.
Forras started Gear Up in 2002, shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A volunteer firefighter at the time, he was working at ground zero when he became trapped in the debris. Forras thought he was going to die, so he prayed and promised that if God helped him get out alive, he would dedicate his life to helping others. So, he quit his corporate job and started Gear Up as a "tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11 and those who continue to give their lives."
Forras said he hopes his foundation can "unite the world in response to tragedy instead of divide it."
"The stuff we throw out is here better than anything they have," he added. "We have to help them gear up."