Calgary

Donated fire truck arrives in Mexico 8 months after Calgary firefighter started driving it there

A Calgary firefighter is celebrating after spearheading the donation of a used fire truck to a town in Mexico. But issues at the border meant a delivery that should have taken around eight days... took eight months.

Donation from Castlegar, B.C., blocked at Mexican border because of missing paperwork

Residents of Pochutla, Mexico with the fire truck donated from a B.C. fire department, and coordinated by two Calgary firefighters. (Supplied by Brett Romanow)

A Calgary firefighter is celebrating after spearheading the donation of a used fire truck to a town in Mexico, after issues at the Mexican border with the United States delayed delivery by nearly eight months.

Brett Romanow, along with fellow firefighter Derek Docherty helped organize the donation of retired Engine No. 3 from the Castlegar, B.C., fire department to their counterparts in Pochutla, Mexico. 

"We were contacted by the local firefighters down in Mexico... they were looking for any help with supplies or financing just to get more stuff for their fire hall because it's pretty bare bones," said Romanow.

The two live in Canmore but work in Calgary. The effort was a family one, with Romanow's in-laws Ed and Paulette Ruest, along with his wife Nicole assisting. They teamed up with Firefighters Without Borders Canada to coordinate the donation and raised $11,000 toward the fire truck.

Stopped at Mexico-U.S. border

After FWBC sourced the truck from the Castlegar department, Romanow, Docherty and father-in-law Ed Ruest opted to drive it themselves to Mexico in October 2017. After six days of driving from Canada to Texas, they ran into a problem.

"The federal law actually changed 48 hours before we arrived at the Texas border and they wouldn't let us cross into Mexico," explained Romanow. They were missing critical paperwork for the fire truck they didn't realize they'd require.

Calgary firefighter Brett Romanow organized the donation of a Canadian fire truck to Pochutla, but couldn't get the vehicle past the Mexican border. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

"We got stranded at the border. We made every possible phone call we could… to anyone that would listen. They simply said the law changed 48 hours before, you need this new piece of paper."

In a stroke of luck, Romanow's hotel in Pharr, Texas, was directly behind a local fire station. According to Romanow, he simply walked in, explained the situation and they were willing to help by storing the donated fire truck for as long as needed at their station.

"I definitely had to tell them where Calgary was. They don't quite know where it is still," said Romanow.

"Just to see three countries of strangers working together, despite all the stuff that's going on at the border right now. It was pretty spectacular. The firefighter brotherhood is alive and well." 

We didn't know how difficult [it is] to bring something into Mexico.- Dulce Maria Jimenez, Rotary Club

The local Rotary International club in Pochutla stepped into help finish the job and get the truck from Texas to Mexico.

"We didn't know how difficult to bring something into Mexico is," said Dulce Maria Jimenez,  who is with the local Rotary club in Pochutla.

Dulce Maria Jimenez is a Rotarian in Pochutla, Mexico. (Skype)

The Rotarians in Mexico managed to raise more than 77,000 pesos to cover the costs of getting the fire truck from Texas across the border.

Exactly seven months and 27 days after Romanow and Docherty set out to drive the truck down from Canada, it arrived at its destination on June 22, 2018. The drive from Pharr, Texas, to Pochutla, Mexico, only took three days.

Fire truck finally arrives

"I wanted to cry," said Jimenez when describing what it was like to see the truck drive into her town. More than 100 people were there to see it arrive, shouting "gracias Canada" while waving both Mexican and Canadian flags.

Pochutla Bomberos (firefighters) celebrate the arrival of their truck from Canada after a nearly eight month delay. (Supplied by Brett Romanow)

Brett Romanow is planning a vacation to the area later this year and hopes he can visit the fire truck he helped get there.

"I'm really hoping they'll let me take the truck for one last drive around the block," said Romanow.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anis Heydari

Producer

Anis Robert Heydari has worked in jobs ranging from cleaning up oil spills to fixing phone lines, but somehow ended up a jack-of-all-trades at the CBC. He hasn't won any awards, other than a 1996 award for violin at a small town Alberta music festival. He's now working at CBC Radio's The Cost of Living covering business and economics. Reach him at anis@cbc.ca.

now