What happens to old air packs and turnout gear when it falls below the standards of firefighters here in the United States? It’s not worthless junk, but most of the time it is treated that way and ends up in a landfill.

Not here in Polk County.

Thanks to the efforts of Chief Mike Hanuscin – hired earlier in the year to head up the department – firefighters in the western part of the Dominican Republic are going to get gear they desperately need for operations in the Caribbean.

Hanuscin was joined by local volunteer firefighters Lt. Kevin Colbert and firefighter Isaac Streetmen (yes, that Isaac Streetman) to load up a trailer with said items that would otherwise go to waste.

Emergency Services Ministries came by the Fire Department headquarters at the Emergency Management Building at the Det. Kristen Hearne Memorial Public Safety Complex earlier today to pick up a large pile of turnout gear, air bottles and the breathing apparatus needed for firefighters to safely enter burning structures, put out vehicle fires and deal with a variety of hazardous situations.

They’re a nonprofit that in combination with the Denton Humanitarian efforts from the military are providing fire companies in some of the poorest places in the Caribbean, Central and South America with the tools they need to protect their communities. Chief Steve Graham said that they are housing it at the Boiling Springs Fire Department in Boiling Springs, South Carolina located outside of Greenville, S.C. It’ll stay there.

“This equipment is going to the western Dominican Republic, a very poor area where villages have limited or no fire protection,” he said. “So gear that would typically find itself in a garbage dump here, finds new life in those third world countries where those firefighters have nothing.”

Graham noted that the gear is checked to make sure it is serviceable, and dive shops in the Dominican Republic are helping to make sure air bottles get filled up once they are delivered by transport from the U.S. Air Force, thanks to the Denton Program, a Department of Defense program that moves humanitarian cargo to developing nations via Air Force heavy transport aircraft like the C-5 Galaxy. Because of the program, everything from air packs to fire engines can be donated.

Polk County loaded up a trailer with the turnout gear and air packs that’ll be donated onward, which would otherwise be thousands of dollars in equipment that usually would end up in the landfill.

Emergency Services Ministries have gotten all kinds of donations over the past years, ranging all over the southeast. Graham noted 4,000 feet of hose coming from North Myrtle Beach’s Fire Department. They put all of the pieces of equipment together since it is standardized and figure out with a group of fire chiefs local to the region where the equipment is going to determine who needs what at any given time.

“We’re also helping our brothers and sisters in Colombia, and we’re meeting via Zoom with fire chiefs in Belize,” he said. “All of those Caribbean and South American countries that don’t have access to modern firefighting and rescue equipment are getting access to it now. It’s certainly helpful the U.S. Government is able to help through the Denton Humanitarian Assistance Program, because the Air Force flies this for absolutely free.”

Graham added that “It has been phenomenal the way that the Fire Departments all across the Southeast have stepped up for their brothers and sisters in the Caribbean. None of this is possible without those departments donating their gear.”

Everything from fire trucks, ladders, tools and much more have been given over to the ministry, which then coordinates to bring it to these needed areas.

Anyone wishing to make donations to Emergency Services Ministries can reach out at their website https://www.esmchaplain.org/.

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