Tyler Fire Department donates fire truck to Guatemalan town

Published on Friday, 26 December 2014 22:16 - Written by Faith Harper, fharper@tylerpaper.com

A 1997 Pierce Freightliner fire truck was one of the oldest in the Tyler Fire Department’s fleet and no longer met the city’s standards.

City officials said it was all used up.

A collision years ago bent part of the frame, and it never tracked as straight on the road again. The water tank began leaking and the front bumper was incomplete.

The emergency vehicle was too damaged to serve in Tyler but became a blessing for the rural Guatemalan province of San Jose Pinula after it was donated to the municipality through the Dallas-based nonprofit, Hope Ignited. The organization is an international ministry, bringing infrastructure improvements, medical care and the Gospel to Guinea, West Africa and Guatemala, said Executive Director Chuck Jamison.

Fire Chief Tim Johnson said the truck was used as a reserve for years following the collision — just in case it was needed, but in August the department decided it was time to let it go.

Typically, the city would submit it to an auction, but the equipment wasn’t expected to garner much — an estimated $2,500 — so the city opted to donate it.

“Most of the (area) volunteer fire departments had better equipment. No one was going want it, and it wasn’t something that anyone would try to get,” Johnson said.

Mayor Martin Heines said in the past, Tyler has donated items to nonprofit organizations after their value deteriorated to a certain point.

“(If) we have certain items that are of little value or can be used by a nonprofit ... it’s better for us to partner with the nonprofits to help support their mission,” he said.

Some examples include the city donating old computers to the Veterans Round Table and the donation of a deteriorating city property to Gateway for Hope.

Jamison said he believes the fire truck donation was the work of God because of how quickly and perfectly it came together.

He said it all started when he was doing joint medical outreach in a neighboring city in Guatemala, and the mayor of San Jose Pinula approached him to show him the community.

Jamison said the mayor showed him a brand new fire station built by the federal government. The municipality was responsible for finding and maintaining a fire truck, a feat that was almost impossible in a country where the average monthly income is $50, he said.

Jamison initially told the man there was no way to help with that large of a task, but the thought remained in his head. He contacted Tyler councilman Mark Whatley, his longtime friend and Hope Ignited co-board member, to inquire on the process of how he could get a truck. It just so happened the city already had one.

The city council approved donating it to the nonprofit Hope Ignited on Aug. 27, with Whatley abstaining from the vote.

City officials from San Jose Pinula flew to the U.S. to pick up the firetruck and drove it 2,500 kilometers, or 1,553 miles, to its new home.

The Tyler Fire Department insignia already had been pulled from the truck, and Whatley personally paid for the Guatemalan municipality’s stickers to be adhered.

“They were surprised at how nice the truck was from their perspective,” Jamison said. “There was a bit of disbelief through this whole thing, but when it was shown to them, they were blown away.”

The truck is a source of pride in the Guatemalan community, which was previously dependent on the national fire service to extinguish all fires.

“The truck is the first and only fire truck the municipality has ever owned …” Jamison said. “A few weeks before the truck, the mayor told me they had a fire and lost a 3- and a 1-year-old, and it turns out it’s not only the nicest truck in their municipal district, it’s the newest truck in the entire country — even Guatemala City doesn’t have a truck as new.”

Along the drive to its new home, people would send word ahead, and people would line the streets to wave it on, Jamison said.

It was given a grand homecoming in Jose Pinula. Their local firefighters shined it up, and the city hosted a parade to welcome it, complete with waiving residents and a marching band.

Whatley joked that the reception was as warm as if a foreign dignitary came to town, adding there is “some serious fire truck envy in Guatemala,” because firefighters from neighboring municipalities have come to look at it.

“In Guatemala, they didn’t know anyone in Tyler, and now Tyler is getting (a lot of) good responses in this city in Guatemala that most people in Tyler doesn’t (know) exists, but they know Tyler now,” he said.

Jamison said the goodwill also has opened other doors, and the nonprofit is starting to help the community stock their hospital with better equipment.

For the people in Jose Pinula, the truck was more than a vehicle, it was a sign that things can get better, Jamison said.

“Hope is infectious,” he said. “If you get some of it, it can run right through a neighborhood and make some positive changes.”