Fighting fire with kindness

Published: Dec. 1, 2018 at 10:57 AM EST
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Brian Schwartz's lab at the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center looks like a firefighter's warehouse. It's currently filled with dozens of boots, jackets, pants and helmets.

"We have way more than I could have expected," Schwartz said.

For the last three months, this teacher and volunteer firefighter has been reaching out to fire departments across Vermont asking for donations of equipment. Schwartz is trying to help a struggling fire department in Tanzania.

"I just assumed that every nation has a fire department. It was surprising to learn that some place that has over 200,000 people didn't have a fire department earlier than 10 years ago," Schwartz said.

Schwartz found this out first hand last Summer, when he visited the fire station during a trip to Africa with some of his students.

"It's the most life changing experience I've ever had," Senior, Erica Corrow said.

In 2009, 12 children were killed and 20 others were severely burned by a fire at a school dormitory in Tanzania. That tragedy led the community to create its first ever fire department. Today, that department only has 27 members, who are using just four sets of gear. They have no gloves or hoods to protect them from heat and smoke.

"My mission was to get them outfitted with proper protection to go out into a fire and save lives," Schwartz said. "People came out of the woodwork to help. They wanted to know how to get the gear to me, what they needed and how to go from there."

Ten departments, including one from Canada dropped off their gear in Troy. That gear included more than 40 full bunker suits.

"When the gear started showing up and rolling in truckload after truckload, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it," Troy Fire Chief, Bobby Jacobs said.

So far, more than 130 sets of gear and equipment have been donated. If purchased new, they would have cost more than $400,000.

"The outpouring of help and support and donations came so fast and so frequently, it was so nice to see so many people come together," Schwartz said.

The next hurdle for Schwartz is raising the funds to ship all of that equipment to Tanzania. It's going to cost around $14,000.