Greensburg firefighters aid Rotary International

| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

In the Dominican Republic, two Greensburg volunteer firefighters discovered friendly people but firefighters lacking in adequate fire equipment or training.

Bob Rhody and Kim Houser, both longtime firefighting instructors, recently visited the Caribbean country to access fire-service capabilities for area Rotary International clubs looking to help the people.

“We found a tremendous diversity in the needs and the training levels,” Rhody said.

Fire services in the capital city of Santo Domingo, with 4.5 million people, were better than in rural areas of the country, but still in need of improvement, both firefighters said.

Houser said he saw no fire hydrants, no sprinkler systems, no thermal imaging equipment and only one Jaws of Life extrication device during his two-week visit.

Fire hoses were deteriorated and boots weren't specially designed for firefighting.

“Once you get away from Santo Domingo, they have nothing,” said Houser, a Greensburg attorney.

Rhody visited from Feb. 16 to Feb. 23, while Houser's stay ran a week longer. They toured the country mostly at the expense of Rotarians, particularly the Somerset club.

“They are the ones that had the mission,” Rhody said of Rotary clubs. “They contacted us to view the system so they might help the fire service in the Dominican Republic, based on their specific needs.”

The Rotary selected the two Greensburg firefighters because of their extensive background in firefighting instruction, said Ron Albom, a Somerset club member and incoming governor for a seven-county Rotary region that includes Westmoreland County.

“We needed two people to go down, visit fire departments and decide what their needs are,” Albom said.

Houser's membership with the New Stanton-Youngwood Rotary Club helped assist his selection, Albom said.

Area Rotary clubs and fire departments have sent used equipment to the Dominican Republic and want to help more as a humanitarian effort, Albom said.

“We look at this as our district project,” he added.

Rhody and Houser will put together recommendations for the Rotary.

“They have manpower but they don't have sufficient equipment,” Houser said.

“We found their training and skills were very low,” Rhody said.

Both described the country as poor, with high unemployment. In the middle of the day, men often just sit along streets with little to do, Rhody said.

“Generally, the people are friendly. There's a large diversity in their level of education, and the unemployment rate is very high,” said Rhody, a retired electrical engineer.

“It's beautiful,” Houser added. “It has a perfect temperature. It's 80-some degrees year-round. ... The people are very nice.”

While in the country, the two men witnessed times when the public water system in San Domingo stopped working.

And customers' electric service was interrupted by “rolling blackouts,” Rhody said.

“You'd turn the spigot on and nothing happened,” Rhody recalled. “That was a culture shock to me, because in Westmoreland County you have all the water you need. The same thing with the electricity.”

Residents put tanks on their home roofs to collect water at times when they can get it.

“I saw tanks all over the place,” Rhody said.

Firefighters depend on storage tanks because they only use water from tankers to fight fires, the Greensburg firefighters said.

Through Spanish interpreters, both men found they shared a common language with their hosts.

“When you start talking fire — even though they talk in Spanish — we were connecting with what we were talking about,” Houser said.

“We could talk fire and equipment. That was a very pleasant surprise.” Rhody said.

“The firefighters were excellent hosts, very pleasant, and we enjoyed being in their company, and I hope they enjoyed being in ours,” he added.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or

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