NEW BETHLEHEM – An old, unused fire truck from New Bethlehem has become a valuable firefighting tool for a small community in the Dominican Republic.
The truck, which was donated by the New Bethlehem Fire Company earlier this year, was cited on the Caribbean island this summer by New Bethlehem firefighter Ed Goth, who said the truck and other equipment that was sent from the local area are welcome additions to the fire companies in poor communities.
“They were very gracious and appreciative of what we did and what was contributed,” Goth said of his eight-day visit to the Dominican in late June.
While the truck now resides several thousand miles away, the feel-good story began last winter in New Bethlehem when fire company officials were looking at what to do with the 1989 Grumman fire engine that had been decommissioned several years earlier and was costing the company money to insure and house it.
“We decided that since we couldn’t find a buyer for it, we would donate the truck through the Jersey City Rotary Club,” Goth said, explaining that the club took care of shipping the truck and many items including old turnout gear, air tanks, hoses and more to fire companies in the Dominican that were in need of equipment.
The New Bethlehem truck arrived in the Dominican last spring, Goth said, and he arranged to travel with other members of the Fire Department Relief Mission of Western Pennsylvania to visit the country in June.
From the time they arrived on the island, Goth said, he and the other firemen, known as “bomberos” in the native Spanish, were treated like royalty. He said they took part in several ceremonies in various towns they visited.
In addition to the New Bethlehem truck, Goth said they made stops in towns that are the new homes to trucks from Aliquippa and the Baldwin areas of Pittsburgh.
In total, seven firefighters from the United States made the trip, representing fire companies from New Bethlehem, Baldwin, Munhall, Cincinnati, New Jersey and New York. Goth noted that he paid for his own trip, and no fire company funds were used.
At stops on their tour, Goth said they also saw some of the bins full of old equipment that the New Bethlehem and other area fire companies donated, and which were shipped with the New Bethlehem truck to the Dominican.
While they were at one town, Goth said the New Bethlehem truck showed up, with the new owners filling it up with donated equipment to take back to their fire station many miles away.
Goth said that even though the trucks and equipment were old and unusable by American standards, “it was like gold to them” and they were so glad to have it.
Eventually, the group visited Pedernales, a city of about 28,000 people in the southwestern edge of the Dominican, near the border with neighboring Haiti.
New Bethlehem’s old Grumman truck was at a military base where a greeting and ceremony were held for the American visitors, featuring traditional dancing and music.
Goth said the locals kept all the New Bethlehem decals and marking on the truck, but added their local fire department name to front of the truck as well.
The group then went to tour the fire station where the truck is now housed.
“Seeing their reaction made it worthwhile,” Goth said. “It was a very humbling experience. You don’t realize how good you’ve got it.”
Goth said that even though he didn’t speak the language, it was clear just how much the truck was appreciated based on the local firefighters’ expressions.
During the visit, he presented the owner’s manual for the truck to one of the local officials.
Goth said that while small fire companies in the New Bethlehem area aren’t rolling in money, the difference between what they have compared with what their Dominican counterparts have is vast.
“What we have compared to what they have is like night and day,” he said, explaining that fire companies there struggle with everything, even fuel for their vehicles. “It’s not like that here.”
During the trip, Goth said the American group was taken to a number of scenic sites, as well as an up close look at the Dominican-Haitian border fence.
“We did a lot of driving in those eight days,” he said. “The scenery was beautiful.”
Throughout the trip, he said they were accompanied by a bodyguard and others, including one public official who had people video and photograph everything.
“It was all very organized and planned out,” he said. “We were treated like honored guests.”