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Community involvement leads to ambulance donation in Mexico

by: RAUL GARZA - Woodburn firefighter Raul Garza, retired International Service Director for East Salem Rotary Club Phil Sperl and Woodburn Fire District Chief Paul Iverson take a moment to capture their partnership in accomplishing a needed donation to the Nogales Volunteer Fire Prevention Department in Mexico.The American Medical Response ambulance sat in the driveway of East Salem Rotary Club’s retired International Service Director Phil Sperl for one year before closely connected Rotary clubs found a suitable home for the vehicle.

Bought by East Salem Rotary Club from American Medical Response in Portland, the ambulance was scheduled to be donated to La Democracia, Guatemala. However, Sperl said the Guatemala fire department could never make a commitment.

Not wanting the ambulance to sit any longer, Sperl spread the word through other Rotary clubs to look for a fitting location.

Woodburn Fire District firefighter Raul Garza learned of a need in Nogales, Mexico, during a family trip with his granddaughters in July 2009. While there, Garza saw the need Nogales had for updated ambulances and supplies, which prompted Garza to lend a helping hand and stay in close communication with the volunteer firefighters there.

“I think it pushed me to working harder to get them better equipment — ambulance and fire,” said Garza. Having heard about both Garza’s work with Nogales and the need to find a home for the ambulance, Shawn Baird, Woodburn Rotary Club member and co-owner of Woodburn Ambulance, let Sperl know.

“I just immediately thought of Raul,” Baird said. “We have donated in the past together.”

Five days later, Sperl drove the packed ambulance to Nogales, Ariz. There, he handed the keys over to Mike Fernandez, president of the Nogales Sur Rotary Club, who then drove across the Mexican border and gave the keys to Rodolfo Sanchez, chief of Nogales Volunteer Fire Prevention Department.

“It always gives me a lot of gratification to see that there is a need and that there is a way to help people and see that the money was spent wisely,” said Sperl. “The people that had been on the receiving end were very gracious and expressed a lot of gratitude.”

East Salem Rotary, Woodburn Ambulance, Woodburn Rotary, Woodburn Fire District and Portland Fire Department were included in this project.

East Salem Rotary Club organizes yearly fundraisers such as selling roses and having a Palm Sunday brunch at Willamette Lutheran Retirement Community.

Through their fundraising, they were able to donate the ambulance in addition to $3,000 of medical equipment.

The contribution didn’t stop there.

Portland Fire and Rescue’s lieutenant paramedic firefighter Alan Bronson said Portland Fire and Rescue donated multiple supplies including medical boxes, bandages, oxygen equipment, gauze, fraction splints, glucometers and suction units.

“It feels like we’re making a difference because we’re giving them this equipment so they can do their job safer. It’s a good feeling,” said Garza. “If we can help somebody with what we cannot use and it’s still usable, there’s a benefit.”

Woodburn Fire Chief Paul Iverson mentioned the donated equipment is useable, however due to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, U.S. fire departments are expected to purchase new equipment approximately every 10-15 years depending on usage.

“All of this equipment pretty much has reached the life expectancy we can use here under the NFPA standards and guidelines that are set up for us,” said Iverson. “It doesn’t mean that equipment is obsolete, it’s just advisable that the equipment gets changed out.”

Knowing the ambulance and equipment would get put to use, all Rotary Clubs involved in the donation were touched to help contribute to better a hardworking department.

“It made me feel good that it was going to a group of people that I know by the way they acted and by the way they took care of their facility and the couple of fire trucks they had,” Sperl said. “It just made me feel really good, the fact that those people had such dedication toward their community, to give up all their time and energy.”



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