Muskoka’s donation of old ambulance could save lives in Guatemala

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Main photo: Sometimes a little goodwill can go a long way. Pending the final stamp of approval from District council, the decommissioned ambulance above may be headed for Guatemala.

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and that applies to countries as well. Canada decommissions a lot of equipment that developing countries can still use – particularly for medical and emergency response purposes.

In Ontario, there’s legislation in place that sets out how often such equipment should be replaced, according to Michael Sayers, Provincial Co-ordinator for GlobalFire, an organization that receives decommissioned emergency vehicles and equipment that is still in good shape, and raises funds to ship it to underserviced fire stations abroad.

“I know for a fire truck, as I am a firefighter, like a first-line truck, it can’t be older than ten years and after 20 years it’s decommissioned, no matter how many miles it has on it, no matter what condition it’s in – it’s finished,” explained Sayers, adding that ambulances have an even shorter shelf life.

Sayers and Marcello Calvinisti were recently before the District of Muskoka Corporate and Emergency Services Committee. The committee agreed to donate a decommissioned ambulance to the not-for-profit organization, which would be destined for Guatemala.

The contact was first made by Calvinisti – a native of Guatemala who lives in Alliston, Ontario and volunteers for the organization. He and Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison share common friends who put the two men in touch with one another.

Aitchison said the timing was perfect as Muskoka is in the process of replacing two of its ambulances. One is being requested by Muskoka’s Paramedic Services for multiple uses, while the other would be going to auction, which could fetch anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000.

“Instead of doing that we took it to committee to see if they’d be interested in donating it,” said Aitchison, who is also chair of the District of Muskoka Corporate and Emergency Services Committee. He said the committee unanimously agreed to donate the ambulance, pending final approval from District council.

“The nice thing about it is it’ll be used in Guatemala for years to come. It’s still a good enough machine to be used there, so for the sake of a few thousand bucks that we may or may not have gotten for it, we’re able to do something fairly positive,” said Aitchison.

Muskoka’s ambulance could wind up in a town by the name of Gualan, situated in the region of Zacapa in eastern Guatemala. It’s a poor area with little resources. Calvinisti told Doppler that a four-year-old girl recently died in a makeshift ambulance that was transporting her from the Zacapa regional hospital to the country’s capital.

The Zacapa hospital was not properly equipped to help the girl. “So they had to transport her to the capital hospital. They could not find an ambulance that was capable of doing what all ambulances are capable of doing,” said Calvinisti, explaining that the vehicle used to transport the girl was more like a micro-bus with a stretcher or “a taxi with a bed,” as he put it. Unfortunately, the girl died on the way.

“That is one of the reasons why we are doing this, because we want to prevent things like that… to be able to give people a chance to live,” said Calvinisti. He said the little equipment that does exist is so outdated, it is even difficult to find batteries for it. Emergency services in Guatemala are provided by the fire departments. That also means the dispatch of an ambulance, if one is available, is done from a volunteer fire station. “A paramedic is a firefighter in Guatemala, there is no difference. It’s not like here that we have both, they do the whole thing,” he explained.

He said other equipment is also in urgent demand, particularly in the Gualan area as it is one of the places that can reach certain parts of the Pan-American Highway if there’s an accident. Calvinisti has driven donated emergency vehicles to Guatemala in the past, but through a new connection he has made with the American army out of South Command in Miami, he’s hoping they will fly equipment, such as Muskoka’s donated ambulance, to its final destination. He’s excited about the opportunity as it would mean a lot of savings for the not-for-profit organization.

“I am actually very excited that they’re helping because you save a lot of money… and it’s not fun driving from Mexico, it’s a little bit dangerous,” he said. Being able to speak both languages is a definite asset as well as the fact that he knows the area. Calvinisti has driven vehicles to Guatemala in the past but it’s not for the faint of heart: there are dangerous areas along the US-Mexican border; areas controlled by drug cartels and guerrillas. Fortunately, Calvinisti said he’s been able to pass through without any issues, but he’s heard stories. “Don’t do it if you don’t have to do it,” he advises.

GlobalFire will take fire trucks, ambulances and rescue equipment that is still in good shape. In some cases they will also provide donors with a receipt for tax purposes. They’re also looking for used vehicles to help them transport training crews.

“If it’s technical equipment, stuff that you just don’t want to throw at people – specifically SCBA [Self Contained Breathing Apparatus], auto extrication gear and high angle [rescue]gear – we will make arrangements to go down and train them as well,” explained Sayers, who is also a Captain with the City of Toronto Fire Department.

Right now Calvinisti is working on getting two fire trucks from Vancouver, another fire truck from Alliston that is currently being repaired and two ambulances – one from Muskoka and one from Saskatoon – to Guatemala.

Calvinisti runs a home-based business with his wife, which he says enables him to volunteer on the side. “And we love helping people,” he said. Calvinisti also works with other NGOs to help those in need.

“He does a lot of work in Guatemala helping out hospitals, orphanages and fire fighters. He’s just a charitable man,” noted Sayers.

As for donating ambulances, it’s not the first time the District has donated ambulances it puts out of circulation. Past donations have been made to the Salvation Army, the Huntsville Fire Department, the Township of Muskoka Lakes, Muskoka Algonquin Highlands Fire Department and, more recently, an ambulance was donated to Georgian College in 2013, according to a report submitted to committee by Jeff McWilliam, Chief of Paramedic Services and Emergency Planning.

You can learn more about GlobalFire at this link.

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5 Comments

  1. Huntsville’s a small place but well connected to Guatemala. Two teams of 20+ people are going in 2019 to help build a hospital in Nebaj, Guatemala. The need is great. The people are grateful for the support.

  2. Mr. Calvinisti is a saint: I sincerely hope that the District continues its exemplary record by rubber-stamping this charitable donation. And kudos to the States for their airbus offer.

  3. Wonderful.!
    If we were in the position of needing help like the folks living remotely in Guatemala, we’d sure appreciate anything we can get. The Huntsville / Muskoka area has many connections to Guatemala.
    Reaching a helping hand is always a great way to live. !

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