A city on the west coast of Mexico is thanking Lake Cowichan for a large donation of equipment that will help its team of volunteer firefighters better handle emergencies.
Steve Vatcher, a member of the Lake Cowichan Volunteer Fire Department, thought of the donation after a tragedy he witnessed in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, where his family has vacationed since 2002.
“Last year in 2015 when we were down there, there was a drowning on the beach there and I was one of the responders to it,” he said.
The ambulance and the fire department were called and Steve said he was shocked by what he saw when they arrived.
“They showed up and they really didn’t have any equipment. And that kind of got me motivated more to find out more about them. And to find out more about what they do and what they need.”
Vatcher made a connection with the Zihuatanejo volunteer fire department and discovered its members had very little equipment and their second-hand fire truck — donated by a community in California — did not have a functioning pump. When Vatcher returned to Lake Cowichan, he spoke with fire chief Doug Knott and learned they already had boxes of gear set to be donated to Firefighters Without Borders, a non-profit organization that seeks to assist emergency service agencies in developing countries.
The gear in Lake Cowichan had expired.
“It’s not that it’s not good. It’s just that with WorkSafe regulations and such, after so long we can’t use it because of those regulations. So we’ve always donated it,” said Vatcher.
He contacted Firefighters Without Borders and got their permission to bring that equipment to Zihuatanejo, which is not currently a community registered with the international non-profit organization.
“They had a fire the month before we arrived and it was a bucket brigade, essentially,” he said. “There’s a real need there.”
Last month, Vatcher and his wife, Rona, paid out of their own pockets to transport 10 sets of turnout gear (helmets, coats, pants and boots) to Zihuatanejo during their annual Mexican vacation. Their friends (Greg and Jen Smith, Bob Day and Laurie Johnson) assisted them in the equipment’s delivery and witnessed the firefighters’ reactions firsthand.
“It was one of those moments. I teared up in the background there because wow, these people they had like three sets of grungy gear and now they have 13,” said Day, who was not travelling in an official capacity as a councillor from the Town of Lake Cowichan.
“I hope I have the privilege of going back and doing that again one day. I hope that in the future if there’s anything we have that can’t be used because it’s expired, I hope we can get it to them for use.”
Day noted that while the fire department is a department of the town, there have been no official discussions about further involvement with the group in Zihuatanejo.
According to Vatcher, the recipients of the gear were extremely grateful.
“Hopefully it’ll help them going to the next call,” he said. “If anyone’s going to Zihuatanejo and sees the fire department running around with Lake Cowichan Fire Department gear — because they have some of our coveralls that say that on the back — it’s not us, it’s just our gear.”