An $800,000 grant from FEMA which the village of Brookfield parlayed into a new front-line “quint” fire engine, also turned out to be a boon for a fire department located in a city in the mountainous central portion of the Dominican Republic.
Because the new quint combined the capabilities of Brookfield’s pumper engine and ladder truck, the village sought to dispose of the old vehicles. They sold the 20-year-old ladder truck to the Roberts Park Fire Protection District in Justice for that agency to use as a reserve vehicle.
It was going to be a little more difficult to sell the 1991 pumper engine, which was still in good working condition, but was considered obsolete by National Fire Protection Association standards.
“There’s a lot of good vehicles out there that are trying to be sold that can’t be sold,” said Brookfield Fire Chief James Adams, who said the 1991 pumper was still a reliable vehicle and was used by the department to respond to incidents almost until the day it left the station for the last time in May. “The NFPA is really wasteful, in my opinion, because we’re getting pump tests and ladder tests and we’re passing every year, so it’s a good, solid vehicle. It’s all certified, but we’re handcuffed by our own standards, which is hard to accept.”
Engine 412’s final destination was Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic, where it was immediately placed into front-line service. In addition to the engine, Adams reached out to other area departments and the company Air One, which supplies fire departments with self-contained breathing units, or air packs.
Air One donated nearly two dozen air packs along with an air compressor so they can be recharged when needed, a donation valued at $75,000, according to Adams. Brookfield also ended up sending a host of firefighting gear, from ventilation fans and spotlights to ladders, nozzles, face masks, coats, pants, flashlights and canisters of foam for use in fighting things like oil fires.
The engine, whose transportation to the Dominican Republic was funded by donors in Jarabacoa, finally made its way through customs in mid-June. Then on June 29, three representatives from the Brookfield Fire Department – Adams, Capt. Brian Baldwin and Firefighter/Paramedic Wesley Proch – flew to the Dominican Republic’s capital, Santa Domingo, before driving another 4.5 hours to Jarabacoa to provide training to the 16 or so firefighters who make up the Jarabacoa Fire Department.
Adams said he and the other Brookfield firefighters paid for their own travel, while donors in Jarabacoa paid for their lodging.
“I don’t know what I was expecting,” said Adams, “but whatever it was, it blew my expectations away.”
The trio of Brookfield firefighters were in Jarabacoa for two nights, squeezing in training on how to use the engine, the foam and much of the gear. Because the department there did not have an air compressor, the handful of air packs they did have didn’t get used much. According to Adams, they had to drive 50 miles to get the air packs recharged.
Much of the fire department’s gear and vehicles are donated or funded by donations from local business owners, said Adams. The Jarabacoa’s Fire Department budget is about $4,000 a month, Adams said.
“They need way more than what we gave them,” Adams said.
The connection with Jarabacoa was made through Proch, who was hired in Brookfield in 2021. About a decade earlier he had worked on a construction project to build a restaurant in Jarabacoa – an initiative launched by his in-laws, who owned land there. Proch also later managed the restaurant for a time before changing gears at age 32 and getting his EMS certification before joining the fire service.
While he worked in Jarabacoa, he got to know other business owners and local officials. When he learned Brookfield would be disposing of the pumper, he let Adams know he might have a taker in Jarabacoa.
“I told the chief, if he actually wanted to donate the engine, I could work it out,” Proch said.
He ended up making the arrangements for the training trip and a local town councilor, Rafelina Diaz, solicited local business owners in Jarabacoa to come up with the roughly $10,000 cost of transporting the engine there.
“It was still an amazing deal, and they were so happy to get it,” Proch said.
The Jarabacoa firefighters don’t get the same kind of regular training Brookfield firefighters get, said Proch, so they were eager to find out as much as they could about the gear they’d just received.
“They want real-world, situational training. I felt they were just so hungry to learn,” Proch said. “There were definitely moments of complete silence where everyone was zoned right in and hanging on every word.”
The Brookfield firefighters also visited a smaller municipal department on the northern outskirts of Jarabacoa. On June 30 they were feted at a ceremony thanking Brookfield for the donation of the fire engine and equipment, followed by a traditional meal at the home of the Jarabacoa fire chief, Miguel Castillo.
“It’s hard to describe the trip,” said Adams, who can get choked up recalling the experience. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat. … There’s definitely a need for this. A lot of departments [here in the U.S.] could make a lot of difference, way more than they think.
“It really puts everything in perspective. We’re very fortunate to be where we’re at.”