Jefferson Hills fire company among those helping Dominican Republic firefighters
Gill Hall Volunteer Fire Company and other Pittsburgh area fire crews are helping to battle flames more than 1,600 miles away.
Members of the Penn Hills Fire Department's Lincoln Park station spearheaded the Boca Chica Fire Department Mission of Western Pennsylvania, a local project that's part of a larger fundraising mission to send fire gear to the Dominican Republic.
“We're in hard times where we are here, but these guys are so much worse off,” said Penn Hills Station 221 Capt. Mike Talerico.
In the small Dominican town, firefighters are battling disasters while wearing T-shirts, shorts and sometimes baseball gloves, Talerico said, and most of their very few trucks aren't equipped with hoses or other gear.
“It's a hit or a miss whether you are going to even have someone show up,” he said. “Here, you get three or four different departments that are able to show up, but these guys in Boca Chica are covering more than 30 miles themselves.”
In five days, nine area departments filled a 26-foot box truck with new and used hoses, boots, gloves, hoods, air bottles, air packs and air masks. Gill Hall VFC donated its 1984 fire truck.
“We were fortunate enough last year to receive a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters grant to replace our 1984 engine,” said Gill Hall assistant fire Chief Adam Galis, who wrote the grant application.
The department received $400,000 to help pay for a custom built 2018 Spartan Metro fire truck, which is expected to arrive in mid-September.
With a new truck on its way, Gill Hall firefighters decided to donate the 1984 engine to Boca Chica instead of selling it, Galis said.
Despite being 34 years old, the truck was mechanically sound, but was not up to the standards of the National Fire Protection Association, Galis said.
“To see it go somewhere and still be used, it's such as gratifying feeling,” Galis said.
Gill Hall VFC also had a ladder truck and a squad truck, which Galis describes as an utility vehicle.
Joining Penn Hills and the Jefferson Hills company were local departments in Allegheny Valley, Sharpsburg, Whitehall, Imperial, Mt. Oliver, Wilmerding and Elrama.
Ralph Eusebio, a volunteer firefighter in Hoboken, N.J., founded the Boca Chica project five years ago.
His father, Rafael José Eusebio, was a firefighter for the Boca Chica Department, and an interest in his father's station sparked his idea to donate.
When he and co-founder Joe Branco were in the Dominican Republic in 2012, they saw the condition of the two-story station in Boca Chica and wanted to make a change.
Eusebio said he never imagined when he started five years ago what would happen.
“It went out of control, in a good way,” Eusebio said.
Eusebio's father died a year ago, which provided the initiative for the latest project. Spread mostly by word of mouth though the close-knit firefighter community, interest spread to Pennsylvania, Ohio and California. The result has doubled the amount of donated gear.
Galis said Eusebio drove the 1984 truck from Jefferson Hills to New Jersey, where is was placed on a ship.
A last-minute gift came from Mine Safety Appliances Inc., a manufacturing firm based in Cranberry that makes face masks and air packs for firefighters. The company donated 30 face masks.
Boca Chica received the donations last month. Talerico, Penn Hills Deputy Chief Steve Jasper and 19 other firefighters and officials went there to show the members of the department how to properly use the equipment, including training on the air packs, the new fire engine and other unfamiliar items.
The mission also accepted cash donations, which were used to buy couches, mattresses and extraction tools and to pay for shipping costs.