A shipping container filled with firefighting gear and school supplies from Vermont will soon make its way to Tanzania. It’s the result of a high school service learning trip last summer.
Walk into Brian Schwartz’s classroom at the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park, and you might think you’ve come across a fire sale, so to speak. There are mountains of bunker gear – boots, pants, gloves, coats, helmets, you name it. In all, there's nearly 150 full sets of gear, as well as a few dozen air packs and bottles.
It all makes a little more sense once you learn Schwartz is a member of the Waterbury Fire Department. But it also helps to hear about a recent trip he took.
"Last summer we were afforded the opportunity to take a group of students and other teachers to Tanzania, where we worked at an orphanage," Schwartz explained.
They were there to help build a dormitory for the orphanage, but Schwartz found some time for a side trip.
"And what does a firefighter do when they’re on vacation?" he asked. "They go and visit the local fire department. So I got a chance to drive about three hours away to the big city of Iringa, which houses about 200,000 people. And I got to sit down with James, who was the head of special operations for their fire department and he showed me around – showed everything that they do, what they have."
What they had was two broken trucks and four sets of firefighting gear, for a 27-person department protecting hundreds of thousands of residents.
"They had a police truck as one of their fire trucks," recalled Erica Gates, one of the students who went on the trip. "And ... you think, like, 'How does that even work?' But they have to make things work, you know, over there. Like, they don’t have the things we do."
The lack of equipment was astounding to Schwartz and his students, especially considering the amount of functional gear that ends up in Vermont’s landfill.
"The first thing I thought about when I came back to America is the fact that we have to get rid of our fire gear, our personal protective equipment, after 10 years," said Schwartz. "That's the national standard. Whether it's seen fire or not, that has to go away and it has to go into our dumps."
So Schwartz put the call out to fire departments around Vermont and collected their outdated gear. Some departments also wrote him checks to help cover the shipping costs, which are considerable — he's raising $11,000 to ship a 40-foot container.
Members of the school community are hoping to help Schwartz raise the rest of the money through a silent auction and fundraising dinner at the school on Jan. 31. They’ll serve authentic Tanzanian recipes they learned on their trip.