Blyth-borne Projects Equips Mexican Firefighters and Paramedics
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
An 18-month labour of love has paid off in a big way for Blyth’s Doug Scrimgeour, who conceived, and has now delivered, a program that has literally put clothes on the backs and equipment in the hands of Mexican emergency responders.
It was late last month when Scrimgeour and his numerous partners were able to finally deliver equipment, uniforms and gear from all over Canada to Mexican firefighters and paramedics – a gesture that was met with much fanfare and appreciation in Mexico, and which was covered heavily by many Mexican media outlets.
The road to deliver that kind gesture, however, was bumpy to say the least.
In an interview with The Citizen, Scrimgeour, a local Shriner, says the process began during one of the group’s RibFests in Mexico.
Scrimgeour, along with his wife Diane, spends half of his time in Mexico and during one of the meals, devised a take-out system to help serve more meals and raise more money.
With many Shriners at advanced ages, he said, several local firefighters volunteered their time to help make deliveries and get meals out to hungry residents.
As a thank you, Scrimgeour, a long-time firefighter himself, asked the local firefighters what he could do to help them and he couldn’t believe what he heard next.
The fire departments in the local Mexican neighbourhoods, Scrimgeour said, were really having to do without, with full departments having just a handful of equipment and sometimes maybe just one or two bunker suits. Basically, there were major shortages in every category of equipment that needed to be addressed.
Scrimgeour then began laying the foundation for what would come next in his home municipality of North Huron, going to the Fire Department of North Huron (FDNH) and Huron County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for any surplus suits or equipment or items that had been deemed too old by Canadian regulations.
Scrimgeour quickly identified a number of different partners throughout North America, including the Shriners, the Masonic Lodge, the Royal Canadian Legion, the American Legion, the Rotary Club and the Red Cross. His first, and main partnership, however, was with Firefighters Without Borders, an organization that would help him and the program immensely in the coming months.
Soon, donations began coming from all over North America and, thanks to the network Scrimgeour set up, equipment was being moved all over Ontario thanks to volunteers making trips and a very generous cargo rate from Canadian National (CN).
In fact, Scrimgeour has a list of pick-up locations and an open call for anyone travelling to the Trenton/Bayside area posted at Radford’s Gas Bar for anyone willing to donate their time and travel, should they be hitting any of those areas.
Anyone looking for more information should call Scrimgeour at 519-523-9343.
By April, Scrimgeour and his partners had collected enough gear to fully equip 16 fire halls as well as a number of EMS departments in the area.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Scrimgeour says of the project. “We literally put this equipment on the backs of people.”
The 16 Mexican communities that received equipment are Chapala, Jocotepec, Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Atotonilquillo, Poncitlan, Jamay, La Barca, Tototlan, Atotonilco el Alto, Juanacatlán, Jesus Maria, Tuxcueca, Tizapan el Alto, Mansanilla de la Paz, Amatitan and Guadalajara.
Scrimgeour said that personal touch was crucial for him, as he’s no stranger to how corrupt things can be in Mexico. If equipment was delivered to Mexico any other way, he said, there’s no telling whether or not it would actually make its way to where it’s needed most. Being personally involved, however, he knew the collected equipment was getting where it needed to go, and it also gave him a sense of gratification like few others.
To be on the ground and meeting face-to-face with Mexican firefighters who are seeing equipment like that for the first time filled Scrimgeour with a sense of pride.
When the equipment was delivered, Scrimgeour said, firefighters kept thanking him repeatedly.
In addition to equipment for 16 fire halls, Scrimgeour has also overseen the strategic placement of equipment in remote areas of Mexico that are prone to field and bush fires, but have no responding, equipped fire department.
Because these areas are so remote, he says, community members volunteer as “firefighters” in case of emergency, but are left to try and put out fires by beating them with brooms or shovels and they have no equipment whatsoever.
By equipping these communities with one or two bunker suits, complete with breathing apparatus, they are better prepared to deal with bush fires, which, Scrimgeour says, can quickly take on a life of their own, especially in the dry areas of Mexico.
It isn’t just the equipment that has transformed how firefighting is handled in a number of Mexican communities, however, it is the method by which they are fought and the co-operation between departments that have been improved.
Scrimgeour organized a meeting between the members of a number of area fire departments and it was the first time they had communicated with one another.
Having been involved with the Blyth Area Fire Board years ago, Scrimgeour was involved in the establishment of the mutual aid program as it’s known today. He applied those same principles to the fighting of fires in Mexico. Representatives of the various fire departments now meet once a month, Scrimgeour said.
“We changed the whole system,” Scrimgeour said. “They loved it. I’ve been invited into so many suppers with so many fire departments.”
A new program has also been established that allowed a small group of young boys and girls to learn about the world of firefighting and they are taught skills that will help them as they grow up, either in the world of firefighting or beyond.
Getting the equipment from Canada to Mexico, however, was not easy, Scrimgeour said, as it was stalled very early on.
After months of inaction, Scrimgeour eventually went to the Canadian Embassy and had a meeting with the Canadian ambassador, who would eventually be instrumental in the success of the program.
In terms of the project’s growth, however, Scrimgeour says it’s simply taken off since equipment began being delivered. He says it’s now moving at a pace that even he couldn’t have predicted.
He hopes that the program will now involve an annual shipment to Mexico through the organization created called the Lakeside Fire and Red Cross Assistance Group, which will now carry out the initiative in Mexico.
While Doug and Diane had been involved with a godparents’ program in Mexico when they first began spending time there 10 years ago, Doug says his work with Mexican firefighters has been the most rewarding time of his life and he hopes to see the program continue to grow.