Faster response!
Tsawwassen Rotarians help get wheels rolling in El Salvador

By Kristine Thiessen - South Delta Leader - December 21, 2007

Hands on- Delta firefighter Rennie Hanson (top left) shows local Rotarians (from top right) Bryan Kelly, Don Rodgers, and Jim Northey the ropes of his pumper truck. The Tsawwassen Rotary Club, along with other Lower Mainland chapters, are helping send decommissioned, but still usable, fire trucks to El Salvador. Tyler Garnham photo

Imagine living in a community where fire fighters couldn't arrive in time to save your burning home or business.

In El Salvador, 375 fire fighters strain to serve 6.5 million people. To put that in perspective, 3,500 fire fighters service more than 4 million people in B.C.

That's why the Tsawwassen Rotary Club is donating $2,500 to help transport three decommissioned fire trucks from Vancouver to El Salvador's national fire service, through a project called Engines for El Salvador.

"If we see an opportunity to make things happen, we're in," says Rotarian Bryan Kelly.

The project is the brainchild of a group of Vancouver firefighters who wanted to enhance the department's relationship with El Salvador. For the past 12 years, the Vancouver department has donated used boots, jackets, helmets and other gear to the fire fighters there.

And with the support of 11 Rotary Clubs across the Lower Mainland, the cost of transporting the three fire engines is covered.

"From Tsawwassen in the south to Whistler in the north, it's been kind of a Lower Mainland partnership that we've managed to build with the Rotary Clubs," says Brian Hutchinson, public relations manager with the Vancouver Fire Fighters' Charitable Society.

"Tsawwassen was the first club to step forward and come on board."

To date, the fire fighters' society has raised $18,450. Gearbulk Shipping has reduced the shipping cost to between $15,000 and $18,000 from about $45,000, says Hutchinson.

He says the decommissioned fire engines are in good condition (the oldest is from 1982, the youngest from 1987) and are still being used by the Vancouver fire department. They will be replaced in the next few weeks with new ones.

Usually, decommissioned trucks are sold at auctions and fetch about $8,000 each, which is returned to the department and goes toward new equipment.

Considering a new fire engine costs about half a million dollars, $8,000 is a small amount for the city to give up to expand El Salvador's fire service, says Hutchinson. In North America, fire departments aim for a response time of four minutes and 30 seconds, but in El Salvador it's much longer.

"Response time for us is our bread and butter. With far fewer fire fighters they don't have the ability to make that kind of response time. By providing three engines, that should help them decrease the time it takes to get to their citizens."

Kelly says the Tsawwassen Rotary Club often looks for ways to reuse surplus equipment through the Rotary World Help Network. Recently, the group packed a container with computers, used books and other educational equipment and sent it to a library in Kenya.

Regardless of whether the need is local, national or international, says Kelly, "we're a service club-'service above self' is our basic motto. The idea is where you can make a difference, you do."

Another club program Kelly is proud of is ShelterBox. Rotary clubs worldwide take camping gear, cooking equipment and even colouring books for kids, and ship them to families around the world whose homes were destroyed by natural disasters, with the aim to keep them sheltered for six months.

"The fire engines are an outgrowth of the other projects we've been involved in," says Kelly of the club's decision to donate to Engines for El Salvador.

An official hand over ceremony will be held at Vancouver City Hall on Jan. 14 at 10:30 a.m., when the fire engines will be presented to the Consulate General of El Salvador.