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Wichita-area fire departments donate equipment to volunteer firefighters in Paraguay

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, at 11:27 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, at 11:43 p.m.

Armed with makeshift tools and inadequate safety equipment, Paraguay’s roughly 5,000 volunteer firefighters happily accept second-hand gear.

Broken or leaky boots usually tossed in a dumpster?

They’ll fix them, share them, cherish them, Wichita fire Lt. Scott Fromme said.

“For someone who was wearing sneakers, they could care less if boots are supposed to be taken out of service here,” he said.

“These folks would repair anything that we send down there.”

Five tons of retired gear and tools donated by local fire departments over the past few years are bound for the South American country later this month, thanks to the collection efforts of international exchange organization Kansas-Paraguay Partners.

On Tuesday, airman from McConnell Air Force Base loaded more than 20 plastic-wrapped pallets of equipment stored at the Wichita Fire Department’s Regional Training Center onto two semis, bound for the base. It will be stored there until military aircraft delivers it to Paraguay.

The effort marks the first shipment of its kind by Kansas-Paraguay Partners, a local branch of Partners of the Americas, vice president Steve Richards said.

“It’s going to be a significant boost in their ability to respond to fire and heavy rescue,” Richards said of the Corps of Volunteer Firefighters of Paraguay.

The equipment — deemed unusable in Kansas due to its age, condition or changing safety standards — includes personal safety gear, fire jackets, 100 air breathing packs, two-way radios and tools, such as the Jaws of Life. Most of it is retired from departments in Clearwater, Colwich, Hesston, Newton, Walton, Wellington and Wichita.

Interest in the Emergency Preparedness chapter of the Kansas-Paraguay Partnership renewed after a supermarket fire killed 400 and left dozens burned in Paraguay’s capitol city of Asuncion.

Local firefighters used circular saws to chew through gates trapping patrons inside the multilevel complex.

When the blades disintegrated, they pounded the metal with rocks, said Fromme, who traveled to Paraguay in 2010 to assess firefighters’ needs.

He and Richards agree: With the right safety gear and tools, lives may have been saved.

“This equipment is not as dramatic as a fire engine, but it will allow the firefighters to do their jobs more effectively,” Fromme said.

Go to www.kansasparaguaypartners.wordpress.com for more on the organization’s activities.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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