Breckenridge-area firefighters donate ambulance to rural Honduras
The Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District is set to roll out a brand new ambulance in the coming days, an all-hazard apparatus equipped to handle medical emergencies, assist with fires and more.
While the new vehicle is undoubtedly impressive, it’s nothing compared to what they have planned for the old one. Red, White & Blue is currently in the process of donating its old ambulance to Summit in Honduras, a nonprofit group based in Breckenridge that provides aid to rural villages in the country by building schools, providing clean water initiatives and hosting medical clinics among other outreach programs.
Once delivered, the ambulance will be housed at the Manos Amigas clinic near La Entrada, not far from the border of Guatemala, helping to transport locals to the nearest hospital more than two hours away. The fire district has been a partner with Summit in Honduras for the last three years, and for those who’ve made the trip before, the need for an ambulance was obvious.
“When we were down there at this clinic we saw it firsthand,” said Drew Hoehn, battalion chief with the fire district. “People wouldn’t come in because it’s such an effort and there’s financial hardships in getting from point A to point B because they’ve got to pay for a bus. A lot of these people have little-to-no money. They would deflect their health issues until it became a crisis situation. The hope is that the culture changes a little bit in this region the ambulance will serve, and people may ask for help sooner and increase their overall health, or in the most extreme cases their likelihood for survival.”
The move comes in part due to the fire district’s decision to upgrade to a new ambulance. The department received a $100,000 grant from the state to help purchase the new ambulance on the condition that the old one was donated to a nonprofit organization. The ambulance will be used primarily as a simple medical transport, assisting locals in meeting their appointments at hospitals and clinics for free. The ambulance represents a significant upgrade over the area’s current methods of medical transportation.
“The nearest hospital is about two hours away,” said Maggie Ducayet, founding director of Summit in Honduras, which has been providing outreach to the area since 2005. “When there was a need for someone to be transported they would be put in the back of a pickup truck or the back of a car. This ambulance is a game-changer for everybody.”
The ambulance received an in-kind inspection from Specialized Truck & SUV in Frisco and a blessing from the St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church this weekend. It’s ready to be transported as soon as all the donation paperwork is finalized. The plan is for the fire district to drive the vehicle to Houston, where it will be shipped on a boat to Honduras.
The ambulance isn’t the only piece of equipment that will be sent. Once word got out about the ambulance, the fire district received a variety of peripheral donations from other fire departments around the Western Slope, including bunker gear, EMS equipment and more.
“We received hard and soft goods from fire departments from here to the Roaring Fork Valley,” said Hoehn. “The ambulance isn’t going down empty.”
This isn’t the first experience the fire district has in foreign countries. About 15 years ago the district donated a fire engine to Cambodia through the Douglas Mendel Cambodian Relief Fund. Nor is it the first experience the group has in Honduras specifically. Annual trips for firefighters began in January 2017 — in partnership with Summit in Honduras and the Summit Rotary Club — primarily to a town called Santa Barbara about two hours east from La Entrada. Over the last two years firefighters with the district have made four trips, providing equipment and training for the area’s local firefighters and EMS, and visiting the local orphanage and surrounding villages to conduct well-child checkups and teach fire safety, among other efforts.
The group’s most recent trip was in January this year. Firefighter and paramedic John Zeising is scheduled to return on a medical mission in May. The missions are entirely volunteer based, with firefighters making the trips on their own time and paying for the journey through fundraising efforts at the department. And while there’s a clear utility in the trips for the locals in Santa Barbara, La Entrada and surrounding towns, there are also benefits for the firefighters who choose to go.
“It’s been fantastic in both directions,” said Chief Jim Keating. “The people we send down there get a huge confidence builder you couldn’t replicate here. It presents challenges and gets them to work through those challenges. It reveals challenges they haven’t tapped before, and you have to dig harder to get the message and training across. It builds confidence in what they do, and what they can come back and do in our own organization.”
No plans have been laid in stone for 2020, though Hoehn said the department intends to send another group of firefighters back annually from this point forward.
“Our first trip we went down because we had a spirit of adventure, and we wanted to see a different country and experience a new culture,” said Hoehn. “I can speak for all of us that we were smacked upside the head with the experience, and the interactions we had with the citizens of Honduras. People are fighting for survival, but you get a sense that the people we interacted with were extremely content and happy. It’s a moving experience.”
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