Destination Nicaragua: firefighting gear from NE Wis. donated to firefighters in Central America

Green Bay Metro and De Pere Firefighters load used turnout gear onto a trailer that will...
Green Bay Metro and De Pere Firefighters load used turnout gear onto a trailer that will eventually be delivered to firefighters in need in Nicaragua.(WBAY)
Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 3:30 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Six truckloads full of mattresses and firefighting gear from several Northeast Wisconsin fire departments will soon be en route to another country.

It’s part of a unique partnership, started several years ago, that allows firefighters here to donate older, used gear and even fire trucks, to Central America.

The project is making a huge difference in the lives of firefighters around the world.

By the handful, dozens of old firefighter jackets and pants, plus boots and helmets from Green Bay Metro, De Pere, Valders, Townsend and Riverview Fire Departments, are piled into an awaiting trailer, on their way to a new home thousands of miles away.

“Our hope is that somebody can use it somewhere,” says Green Bay Metro Fire Lt. Shauna Walesh.

That somewhere is Nicaragua, where firefighters are eagerly awaiting the donation.

It’s coordinated through the Firefighters United Project of the Wisconsin Nicaragua Partners, and the donors have a big goal in mind.

“Could actually save a firefighter’s life down in Nicaragua, because the equipment is so much better than what they’ve had,” says De Pere Fire/Rescue Assistant Chief Eric Johnson. “A lot of times, they go to fires wearing nothing more than a t-shirt and shorts.”

The gear is all still in good shape, but it can’t be used here anymore due to U.S. regulations and standards.

But firefighters say that doesn’t mean it needs to be thrown out.

“United States goes under NFPA standards, where other countries do not, so all the gear we wear at Green Bay Metro Fire has a 10 year expiration. After that we cannot wear it inside a structure fire,” says Walesh.

“They are so proud to wear this. They are so proud to be a part of our firefighting heritage now, because this program has been in existence for decades now, and there’s a connection between the firefighters in Nicaragua and the firefighters here in Wisconsin. It’s unbelievable,” explains Johnson, who paved the way for this partnership in Northeast Wisconsin several years ago.

In 2016, we were there when firefighters donated a 1970 tanker from the Abrams Fire Department to Nicaragua.

Since then, firefighters there completely refurbished it, making it useable for another 20 years.

Along with the gear, an anonymous donor is sending hundreds of mattresses, which will be placed in homeless shelters and fire stations in that country, too.

“Fire gear is very expensive, and any help that people can get, goes a long way,” says Walesh.

“Them receiving equipment from Wisconsin... it’s beyond words,” adds Johnson.

The donations will be sent either by ship or plane, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, and arrive in Nicaragua sometime later this year.

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