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Firemen help brethren in Dominican Republic

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 7:32 p.m.

Western Pennsylvania area volunteer fire departments have joined together to help less fortunate departments in the Dominican Republic continue to make a difference.

What began several years ago as a program though the Rotary Club of Somerset has grown into a movement, with local fire departments donating equipment to the Dominican Republic's efforts. Participating counties include Allegheny, Cambria, Somerset and Westmoreland.

“We took trips there and identified they needed equipment,” said Ron Albom, district governor for Rotary District 7330. “They had nothing. They use garden hoses ... garden gloves. There's a huge need there.”

When attorney Kim Houser, an assistant chief in the Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department, got involved, he took a trip last winter to the capital city of Santo Domingo to see for himself.

He toured the island and visited every fire station. What he found was poor equipment, nonexistent fire hydrants, a radio system that was patchwork at best and a communication system based on cellphones.

“The caliber and temperament of the fire service in the Dominican (Republic) is the same,” he said. “They're truly lions. As a fellow firefighter, I'm so proud of what they do with what little they have.”

When Houser returned, Rotary members began asking fire departments for extra equipment.

They have been collecting donations since mid-June. Albom said he has a warehouse filled to the brim with equipment, and now the challenge is finding a way to ship it.

“The fire service stepping up to the plate in Western Pennsylvania has really been amazing,” Houser said.

Chief Lloyd Crago of the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department said he has donated 1,000 feet of four-inch hoses, adapters, nozzles, bumper-gear coats and pants and radios.

He said that instead of having the equipment sit for 10 years, he is thrilled to donate it to those who need it.

“We always check around locally to see who might be in need of something,” he said. “But it seems the biggest need right now is to send it out of the country.”

Houser said the Monroeville Fire Expo will have a program in February to collect donated fire gear.

“There has been great community support for this program,” Houser said. “Everyone is pitching in and taking a small piece of it.”

Michele Stewardson is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.