Planning for humanitarian mission in Guatemala continues despite pandemic

GARNER, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's hard to get out of the backyard these days much less to Central America.

But a group of local volunteers here isn't giving up on its humanitarian mission of saving lives in Guatemala which began in 2009 with an eye-opening trip to the third world country to equip and train first responders.

"Once we got down there, we realized there was a big need. The firefighters had very little gear to go into fires, they had virtually no air packs. They would just, they'd wear blue jeans and t-shirts," David Pease said.

Pease is chief of the Rescue Extrication Delivery Specialists or REDS Team in Garner.

That's where tens of thousands of dollars in equipment is waiting to be sent to Guatemala, including a former Town of Wake Forest fire engine.

"They decided to donate it to us. Most all the fire trucks in Guatemala are old," Pease said.

Also on trailers and stuffed into all the vehicles are things like oxygen tanks, firefighting apparel, paramedic equipment, and rescue gear like inflatable boats.

And that doesn't even include what's already sitting in hangars at Air Base Charleston.

That's where the U.S. military has partnered in the humanitarian effort by the loading the equipment on cargo planes and flying it to Central America.

"That was supposed to fly out in April. All that is still sitting in their warehouse down there waiting to get down there plus the equipment we have here," Pease said.

But just because Guatemala, like a lot of countries, is closed to visitors because of the pandemic doesn't mean the REDS Team has shut down too.

"It's not stopped us from getting equipment," Pease said. "It's not stopped us from putting it all together."

Pease and a group of volunteers are also waiting to get into Guatemala to provide the training first responders there will need to operate all the equipment.

They were supposed to be going next month but that's not likely to happen.

Still the first responders in Guatemala are hoping that will all change soon and are constantly reminding Pease.

"They shoot me messages and wanting us to come down and get down. So soon as things will open up a little bit, we'll put our team together and we'll head down there," he said, adding that when they do get down there the new volunteers will never forget the experience.

"It's a very fulfilling thing to know that you go down there and help these people and they really appreciate it."
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