Scrimgeour's Mexico project yields millions in results
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
In just under a year and a half, the brainchild of Blyth’s Doug Scrimgeour has resulted in an estimated over $15 million worth of used fire and emergency medical services (EMS) equipment being repurposed to Mexico.
In May, 2015, The Citizen first reported on Scrimgeour’s initiative, which aimed to send firefighter equipment, uniforms and gear to a number of in-need Mexican departments. Scrimgeour and his wife Diane Radford spend half of the year in Mexico and have seen first hand the need for help in some of the country’s communities, which is why he created the Lakeside Assistance Group (LAG).
When The Citizen reported on the story in early 2015, Scrimgeour had already been hard at work for 18 months forging relationships and networking to make his dream a reality.
While the program has flourished both locally and internationally in terms of donations, it has also cast a wider net in terms of what is being repurposed to Mexico. Donations have expanded to include all kinds of medical equipment such as wheelchairs, crutches and medical supplies. Fire equipment has also expanded to include almost anything that could be found at a Canadian fire department, including hoses, oxygen tanks and helmets, as well as sets of the Jaws of Life for motor vehicle collision scenes.
One of the newer partnerships, facilitated through Fire Department of North Huron Chief David Sparling, who is also the Director of at Blyth’s Emergency Services Training Centre (ESTC), has resulted in dozens of Mexican departments gaining access to online firefighter training programs, available in Spanish, for free.
Sparling has also helped to streamline the donation process and provide access to thousands of potential donors through departments sending students to the centre for training.
“We have over 3,000 people on our contact list,” Sparling said. So when the ESTC sends out e-mail blasts, whether it be about new courses being offered or other happenings at the centre, they’ll occasionally add information about the program, saying that if spare gear or equipment is nearing its Canadian expiration, it could find new life in Mexico by being donated at the ESTC.
Those connections have served to greatly assist the program, which has grown exponentially in the last year. And while the ESTC has connected numerous departments to the program, Scrimgeour has also expanded his reach, both locally and throughout North American, engaging people and organizations wishing to help.
One of the biggest potential partnerships on the table for the organization is with the Texas State Association of Firefighters (TSAFF). The TSAFF board of directors recently voted in favour of continuing discussions about a potential partnership with the LAG.
“Erin Powers, who proposed this charitable initiative to the TSAFF, has agreed to donate event planning, public relations and photography services to this project. He has also agreed to help co-ordinate efforts in Ajijic, where his late father’s wife and family and many of their friends reside,” said TSAFF President John Riddle, in a letter written to LAG President John Kelly on Sept. 2. “TSAFF represents more than 14,065 professional, [International Association of Firefighters]-affiliated firefighters in 165 communities in Texas. Outreach to our members and the municipalities in which they serve will begin this week. Erin has begun contacting fire equipment manufacturers, U.S. airlines and others from which donations of services and goods will be solicited.”
Riddle added that TSAFF has a long history of charitable action in Mexico and found the LAG initiative to be one fitting with the group’s goals.
“TSAFF members’ commitment to giving back, our proximity to Mexico and your established history in this area make this project a promising one,” he said.
Scrimgeour is also hoping to create partnerships with local police departments, saying there have been discussions with the OPP, as well as the Toronto, Peel and York departments, but that nothing has yet been finalized.
Locally, Scrimgeour says that partnerships with the North Huron, Huron East and Goderich fire departments have blossomed in the year since the project was first announced. Sparling says that from a firefighter’s perspective, the program just makes sense.
Sparling says that he and other Huron County firefighters must dispose of plenty of bunker gear and equipment due to expiration dates, whether they still appear functional and safe or not.
While he’s aware of the reasoning behind expiration dates for firefighter gear, Sparling says that the “firefighter in you” looks at the gear and knows it still has life in it and could be used in a community that can’t afford it.
He says the program that has been orchestrated by Scrimgeour has had a great impact and he sees it every time pictures are sent from Mexico that show a local firefighter or paramedic wearing clothes or using equipment that was once in use in Huron County.
In May, 2015, Scrimgeour was preparing the project’s first shipping container, readying it for its journey to Mexico. Since then, two more full containers have been sent to Mexico and there is nearly enough material for a fourth.
The value of the equipment that has already been sent to Mexico, Scrimgeour says, is estimated to be valued at between $15 and $16 million and with another container to be sent and additional partners coming aboard every day, the project continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
Just under 80 fire departments in Mexico have received at least some equipment as part of the initiative, some of which have been fully outfitted as a result of the initiative. That is compared to 16 departments that received donations from the organization’s first effort.
In addition to physical equipment being received by departments, now with online training available, firefighting education in these regions of Mexico has come a long way in the last year, Scrimgeour says. The impact of that change, he said, is hard to measure, but it’s certainly positive for the communities.
In addition, the introduction of ongoing meetings and mutual aid agreements throughout the region has gone over well and the concept is continuing to expand throughout the country.
Scrimgeour, who was involved with the Blyth and Area Fire Board years ago, wanted to bring a similar concept to the Mexican departments, which had little or no communication with one another just a handful of years ago. Now, the level of co-operation and communication between departments is high.
Without Sparling, former head of Huron County EMS David Lew and Jean Aitchison connecting the program to much-needed medical supplies, Scrimgeour says he doesn’t think the program would have grown as much as it has in just over a year.
Scrimgeour, who is this year celebrating his 50th anniversary since he first joined the Blyth Fire Department, says he never thought the program would grow to be this big and help this many people. He says it’s the most rewarding thing he’s ever done in his life.
To get involved or to donate used medical or fire equipment, contact Scrimgeour at 519-523-9343, or contact Sparling at the ESTC.