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St. Marys Fire Department donates 21 pairs of fire boots to Firefighters Without Borders

With some help from SaniGear Inc. in Kitchener, the St. Marys Fire Department recently donated 21 pairs of used firefighters’ boots to Firefighters Without Borders, an Ontario-based organization that sends gently used and expired firefighting equipment to fire departments that need it around the world.

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After receiving a donation last spring to purchase brand-new bunker boots for all 25 St. Marys firefighters, the town’s fire department recently donated its 21 pairs of older boots to an organization that provides firefighting equipment to departments in need around the world.

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On Friday, the fire department packed up the boots and sent them to SaniGear Inc. – the Kitchener-based bunker-gear cleaning, maintenance and rental company that cleans the St. Marys firefighting gear – to have the boots cleaned and packed up before being sent on to the Oakville-based organization, Firefighters Without Borders.

“We had the brand-new boots and we had all the old ones sitting here, so I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s give away these boots,’ ” St. Marys fire Chief Richard Anderson said.

Though firefighters’ boots are considered expired in Canada after 10 years of use, Anderson said most of the boots the fire department donated were roughly seven years old while a few pairs were purchased within the last year or so for the department’s more-recent hires. Since the boots are still in good condition, Anderson and the other members of the department wanted them go where they can continue to be used.

“When I was in the military and I was stationed in Afghanistan as a firefighter, we were accepting equipment from Canadian fire departments and it was being shipped over to Afghanistan,” Anderson said. “I remember organizing this equipment and the military had a dedicated corps that would go out to fire departments in Afghanistan and provide them with equipment like axes, hoses, things like that.

“So I’d seen that way back in 2006, and this really kind of brought that home for me.”

As the St. Marys Fire Department has never donated equipment to Firefighters Without Borders before, Anderson said the notion of donating the boots was brought to him by SaniGear owner and president Inge Pudelek.

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“We’ve been partnering with Firefighters Without Borders for years,” Pudelek said. “Basically what happens is … the standards in Canada (state) once (bunker gear) reaches 10 years of life, it’s done. But really, a lot of those suits are in pretty good quality or, on the flip side, much better quality than what some other countries have available to them.

“So Firefighters Without Borders are in place to help facilitate getting gently used or expired gear to other countries. Right now, they’ve committed to sending 8,000 sets (of gear) to Paraguay.”

Pudelek said SaniGear cleans and stores the donated bunker gear at their facilities in Kitchener and Gatineau Que., until the company has a large enough supply to help Firefighters Without Borders fill a shipping container.

Annually, Pudelek estimates SaniGear collects between 60 and 100 sets of fire gear donated by Canadian fire departments for Firefighters Without Borders.

“In many countries, they’re literally showing up in non-fire gear,” Pudelek said. “So they’re showing up at a fire with really no protection. Talk about the true heroes. Go to one of those (developing nations) and you’ll truly see what it means to put your life at risk. Organizations like Firefighters Without Borders – and there’s others in Canada that exist for the same reason – literally exist here to make connections in other countries, make a commitment, collect from all around and send that gear.

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“So … they literally get life-saving equipment that otherwise they wouldn’t have access to.”

Firefighters Without Borders president Frank Lamie confirmed the organization has recently been sending donated equipment to Paraguay, as well as to Colombia and Chile. Domestically, the organization has also helped provide equipment and training to First Nations fire departments in Ontario.

“Our goal is to help fire departments and volunteers build their capacity so they can better protect their communities,” Lamie said in an email.

“We collect and send surplus firefighting-related equipment and gear from larger fire stations in Canada to departments which otherwise couldn’t afford the equipment or don’t have the means to budget for it. Firefighting-related equipment and gear is very expensive and the value of the donations we deliver can be several times the yearly budget of the recipient fire departments.”

As the St. Marys Fire Department continues to replace expired firefighting equipment, Anderson said he and his team will consider donating to Firefighters Without Borders again in the future.

“This is one of those opportunities that we took and definitely will continue to do so in the future,” Anderson said.

gsimmons@postmedia.com

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