Fire stations of the world: Fire Station - San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic
San Pedro de Macoris is a small coastal city on Hispaniola’s southern rim, about 45 minutes by car east of Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital. The International Fire Relief Mission (IFRM) donated equipment to the service in 2011 to upgrade and replace much of the outdated and broken equipment being used at that time. IFRM team’s visit coincided with the San Pedro de Macoris (SPM) Fire Department’s 100th anniversary celebration for its downtown fire station. The existing building replaced the department’s original station, which burned in 1911. Even today, the structure lords over most of the city, with its fourth-storey bell tower used as a lookout point to spot smoke. One storey above the apparatus bay is a small fire museum that houses fire helmets and uniforms dating back to when the country was under Spanish rule and horse-drawn hose reels were the city’s only apparatus.
The head of the San Pedro de Macoris Fire Department is Fire Chief Cesar Aquino. There are 15 full-time paid fire fighters: and 70 unpaid volunteer fire fighters. The city’s two fire stations serve a population of 200 000, covering an area of 52.5 square miles. There is no 911-type system in San Pedro de Macoris
They may not have new apparatus to show for the IFRM visit but the firefighters in SPM now have the tools to be safer and more effective.
Ron Gruening, president of IFRM and his team were there to deliver a 40-foot shipping container packed with donated fire and EMS equipment. The engine operates out of the SPM fire station located in the city centre. On this day, it is parked at the city’s other station so its crew can collect donated gear and be trained to use it. “When you look at it from this far away, it looks pretty good,” Gruening says of the San Pedro de Macoris (SPM, Dominican Republic) Fire Department’s first-responding engine. “It is probably their pride and joy.”
But, as Gruening drew closer to the engine, its flaws became apparent. The tires were baloney-skin bald, the compartments were empty of tools, it carried just 100 feet of hose, the doors were kept shut with wire and the SCBAs mounted on the rear seats had empty cylinders. It had one extension ladder, not fire service-rated and one pike pole. Half of the light bar worked, fluid pooled beneath the engine, and the upholstery was worn in most areas and torn in others. One of its side windows was badly cracked. For the SPM Fire Department, this rig’s condition was more the rule than the exception.
San Pedro has no working hydrant system and must shuttle water, which is why the discarded pump was sacrificed for water storage. Another tender, this one with a 2 000-gallon capacity, also shuttles water. Additionally, the larger tender brings in extra money for the fire department by doubling as a potable water delivery truck.
The fire department’s other working vehicles include a Rosenbauer rescue, a brush truck, an ambulance, and a pickup truck used to transport patients on flat boards. The rescue is out of service, sitting with its cab up and a flat tire. Fabiano Santos, a Brazilian-born and U.S.-trained volunteer SPM firefighter, says he thinks the vehicle needs a head gasket. He adds that parts for apparatus are expensive and hard to come by on the island.
“Nearly every country we visit asks us for fire apparatus,” Gruening says. In 2007, Gruening cofounded IFRM, a 501(c)(3) non-profit humanitarian-aid group, following a trip to the former Soviet country Moldova. A spontaneous stop at a local fire station revealed a department woefully ill-equipped to handle even basic fire responses. IFRM collected donated gear in the United States and shipped it to that department. Since then, IFRM has continued to collect gear for fire fighters in countries with similar chronic needs like Honduras, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Georgia and Ukraine. “In one Georgian city, the fire fighters were using badly worn Soviet-era ARFF trucks and converted military vehicles to protect their city. In Honduras, of the two ambulances, one was out of service and the other had a damaged rear suspension that kept it from travelling much over 10mph.”
It is difficult for IFRM to take possession of donated apparatus and equally difficult to ship them overseas because of the expense, Gruening says. Another difficulty is matching the appropriate apparatus to the country’s needs. American-style apparatus are not always the best fit for developing countries.
“In Georgia, the terrain is mountainous, the roads narrow and often unpaved and there are no hydrants,” Gruening says. “They need something with high ground clearance and a lot of water-storage capacity. We are trying to set up a network where we can work with apparatus dealers or manufacturers who are near the countries we visit. Until that is functioning, we can do a lot more good with a container full of gear than one apparatus.”
For San Pedro, that container of gear included 90 sets of head-to-toe structural fire protective equipment. In addition to the boots, pants, coats, gloves, Nomex hoods and helmets, IFRM also delivered 90 SCBA packs, bottles and masks. There were an additional 60 sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) plus 100 sets of wildland fire PPE and wildland tools. There were extrication tools, four pallets of various diameter hose, appliances and six CPR training mannequins. The container also held EMS supplies including numerous ambulance cots; three automated external defibrillators (AEDs); EMS uniforms; and smaller items such as gauze, tape and cervical collars.
Fire departments across the United States donated the equipment, which is, for the most part, no longer NFPA-compliant. The lack of compliance and shipping expense make it difficult for fire departments to donate used gear to other US fire departments, Gruening says. “Whether it is for legal or logistic reasons, many fire departments cannot give their surplus gear to other departments here in the States,” Gruening states. “Because it still has useful life left in it, IFRM can take it out of the waste stream and give it a second life, protecting fire fighters on the other side of the world. The generosity of these US fire departments is protecting fire fighters’ lives.”
In addition to the used gear, IFRM delivered reconditioned nozzles. Several years ago, IFRM and Task Force Tips (TFT) entered into a partnership where TFT accepts trade-ins when customers buy new nozzles, regardless of the trade-ins’ manufacturers. TFT also collects used nozzles from training academies and its own retired demonstration nozzles. TFT technicians inspect the used nozzles, replace necessary parts and test the units. It then passes those nozzles on to IFRM, which puts them in the hands of fire fighters around the world.
“Our goal is to supply safe, reliable equipment that performs and protects firefighters on the ground,” says Rod Carringer, TFT’s vice president of marketing. “This may be the only equipment these places have; it has to work.”
For Gruening and his team, the trip to San Pedro, as well as other countries they work with, was about more than making sure the equipment arrived. Fire fighters received training covering modern PPE’s capabilities and how to wear it. Gruening’s team also taught them the basics of SCBA, which is vital for departments unfamiliar with its use. “For many of the fire fighters we encounter, this is their first exposure to breathing air,” Gruening said. “They need to know basic information such as the difference between high-pressure and low-pressure units. They need to know how to use the bypass valve.”