Clark County Fire District 6: “Salmon Creek, Hazel Dell, Peru.” Wait. What?

We’re used to seeing boxes in our ready room. Doubling as a shipping and receiving room, the ready room is commonly the spot where stuff comes and goes. But it what was written on this bunch of boxes that caught the eye. Several big boxes were simply marked “Peru”.

With a little questioning this author learned the content of the boxes: Dozens of used sets of firefighting gear and District 6 T-shirts on its way to the small Southern American country. “Their firefighters have so very little,” says Firefighter Chris Bottomley. “That’s why we try to help out and send them gear we can no longer use.”

Firefighter Chris Bottomley and Administrative Chief Dave Russell move boxes of used gear bound for Peru.

You see, firefighting gear has a shelf life determined by the National Fire Protection Association. After a certain amount of time the gear must be replaced. The used gear used to be thrown away, but in 2003 the Washington Legislature passed a bill that allowed donations of gear and apparatus to fire districts and departments outside of the state. “There are times when they have to fight fire without bunker gear,” Chris says. “In fact, sometimes one firefighter will go in to a fire wearing turnout pants and another will have on the turnout coat. It’s very dangerous.”

In fact, last March Peruvian firefighters battled a blaze that killed 20 people. In some rural districts the firehouses still have dirt floors, and good gear–even used–is hard to come by.

The Washington State Council of Firefighters has had a longstanding relationship with Peruvian firefighters, and some Districts, like Spokane, even donated fire engines, trucks, and ambulances. “Even though we can’t legally use the bunker gear anymore, it still has 20 years of life left,” says Chris. “And it makes us feel good to help those who are just trying to help other people.”