Making a difference, one fire truck at a time

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen
  • 108th Wing Public Affairs
It takes a lot of work to donate a fire truck to another country.

Specifically, it takes the Air National Guard, the Air Force Reserve and the active-duty Air Force, as well as a host of government agencies.

Case in point, Master Sgt. Jorge A. Narvaez, a traditional New Jersey Air National Guardsman with the 108th Security Forces Squadron, is in the process of getting a fire truck sent to Nicaragua.

Narvaez, who is originally from Nicaragua, came to the United States in 1981 and has served with the Princeton Police Department as a patrolman for 22 years. He joined the 108th Wing in October 1992 and in 1999, he transferred to Security Forces, where he serves on the Commander's Support Staff.

"I've always felt compelled to help, it fulfills me as a human being, trying to make a difference," Narvaez said.

In 2014, Narvaez travelled to Nicaragua. While he was there, he visited the headquarters of the Benemerito Cuerpo de Bomberos - a group of volunteer firefighters located in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.

"I saw that they were in dire need of serviceable fire trucks and equipment," said Narvaez. "I offered to help and get them assistance in the United States. I explained to them that I couldn't make any promises, but that I would try to do my best."

Narvaez talked to Ray Wadsworth, the former Fire Chief of Mercer Engine No. 3 in Princeton, N.J., and was able to get some coats, boots and hoses that had been slated for replacement. Like their counterparts in Nicaragua, the Princeton firefighters are also volunteers.

The Nicaraguan firefighters were grateful for the donated gear, but their need for a new truck remained.

In 2015, an opportunity presented itself.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration informed mercer Engine No. 3 that they would have to replace two of their fire trucks. One of them, a 1982 Mack 1250 GPM pumper truck, could no longer be used because the open cab was considered a safety hazard.

"Mr. Wadsworth felt that one of the trucks could be donated," Narvaez said. "We began to work together and doing all that was required to get the truck from the city."

To get the ball rolling, Narvaez sent a letter to Robert Gregory, Princeton's director of emergency services, explaining how the retired truck could be put to good use in Latin America. Princeton responded by putting the truck up for a symbolic auction.

"They sold it to me for a dollar," Wadsworth said.

In addition to the truck, 13 sets of boots, six jackets, and 1,200 feet of two and a half inch hose were included.

"The truck is fully equipped, all it needs is for the tank to be filled with water," Wadsworth said.

"I also took a video of the truck, how to start it up; giving directions on how to operate it," Narvaez said.

Now you can't just donate a fire truck to another country, there's a process for it and it involves the Denton Program.

The Denton Program, which is jointly administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of State and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, allows U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available on military cargo aircraft to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need. U.S. Sen. Jeremiah Denton created the program as an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The amendment states "the Secretary of Defense may transport to any country, without charge, supplies which have been furnished by a non-governmental source and which are intended for humanitarian assistance. Such supplies may be transported only on a space available basis." Since 1998, more than 5.6 million pounds of humanitarian supplies have been sent to more than 50 countries.

What followed was a flurry of activity as Narvaez made contact with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Managua and Air Force officials who would arrange for the truck's 3,700-mile journey. The sign things were moving along came when he was put in touch with Chief Master Sgt. Juan Claudio of the 514th Air Mobility Wing, Air Force Reserve, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., who went to Princeton to get the truck's measurements and provide guidance on getting it ready for flight.

The only thing left was the letter of approval - the airlift certification letter.

It came on June 3.

The letter assigned the 439th Airlift Wing - an Air Force Reserve unit based at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., with airlifting the fire truck on one of their C-5 Galaxy's.

At this point, most people would think that the C-5 lands at the Joint Base, the front end opens up, the ramp gets lowered and you drive the fire truck onto the aircraft, strap it down and fly off to Managua.

Not exactly.

A C-5's ramp is designed for high wheel base trucks or tracked vehicles, all of which can easily climb up the C-5's steep ramp. A fire truck's lower wheelbase makes the climb up the ramp impossible. Instead, a shoring kit, which is basically an extension to the C-5's ramp has to be built. No two shoring kits are the same, so they have to be hand built based on the vehicle's weight. In this particular case the shoring ramp has to accommodate a fire engine that weighs 33,000 pounds.

That's where Master Sgt. Patrick J. Applegate with the Logistics Distribution Shop, 108th Traffic Management Office, comes in.

Applegate built two ramps and six pedestals all made out of plywood. Each ramp is eight feet long by 40 inches wide and 13 inches tall and is made up of 18 pieces of plywood cut in diminishing lengths creating a series of steps.

The C-5's ramp is lowered to rest on the pedestals, which keep the ramp stable. The plywood ramps are placed at the end of the C-5's ramp, creating a gradual climb for the truck.

"As the front wheels of the fire truck get on to the aircraft, the rear wheels are going to come up so the bottom part of the engine doesn't scrape the ramp," Applegate said.

Sometime in August, all the work by USAID, the Department of State, and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency will come together.

And on that day, the 108th Wing, the 514th Air Mobility Wing and the 439th Airlift Wing's efforts will be most visible aspect of that work.

The 439th's C-5 will land at Joint Base, Claudio and Applegate will work with the C-5's loadmasters and Narvaez will see the fire truck loaded.

"I want Airmen to see this and know that they can do this as well," Narvaez said. "There are many countries in the world that can use our help and there are always things you can do to help people. Now that I know about the Denton program, I want to do more."

"I believe when you come into this world you have a purpose. To me, my purpose is to help wherever I can."