Airmen load, airlift fire truck 3,700 miles to Nicaragua

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mark Olsen
  • 108th Wing Public Affairs
A New Jersey fire truck recently made a 3,700-mile journey to its new home in Managua, Nicaragua.

The 1982 Mack fire truck was loaded onto a 439th Airlift Wing C-5B Galaxy here Aug. 12, thanks to the combined efforts of Airmen from the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and active-duty Air Force, as well as a host of government agencies.

It wasn't an easy task, and it took an individual to recognize a country’s need for that fire truck and pursue it to make it a reality.

Master Sgt. Jorge A. Narvaez, a New Jersey Air National Guardsman with the 108th Security Forces Squadron, was responsible for getting that fire truck sent to Nicaragua.

Narvaez, who is originally from Nicaragua, came to the United States in 1981 and has served with the Princeton Police Department in New Jersey as a patrolman for 22 years. He joined the 108th Wing in October 1992 and in 1999, he transferred to security forces, where he serves on the commander's support staff.

“I’ve always felt compelled to help; it fulfills me as a human being, trying to make a difference,” Narvaez said.

In 2014, Narvaez traveled to Nicaragua. While he was there, he visited the headquarters of the Benemerito Cuerpo de Bomberos, a group of volunteer firefighters located in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.

“I saw that they were in dire need of serviceable fire trucks and equipment,” Narvaez said. “I offered to help and get them assistance in the United States. I explained to them that I couldn’t make any promises, but that I would try to do my best.”

Narvaez talked to Ray Wadsworth, the former fire chief of Mercer Engine No. 3 in Princeton, New Jersey, and was able to get some coats, boots and hoses that had been slated for replacement. Like their counterparts in Nicaragua, the Princeton firefighters are also volunteers.

The Nicaraguan firefighters were grateful for the donated gear, but their need for a new truck remained. In 2015, an opportunity presented itself.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration informed Mercer Engine No. 3 members that they would have to replace two of their fire trucks. One of them, a 1982 Mack 1250 GPM pumper truck, could no longer be used because the open cab was considered a safety hazard.

“Mr. Wadsworth felt that one of the trucks could be donated,” Narvaez said. “We began to work together and doing all that was required to get the truck from the city.”

To get the ball rolling, Narvaez sent a letter to Robert Gregory, Princeton’s director of emergency services, explaining how the retired truck could be put to good use in Latin America. Princeton officials responded by putting the truck up for a symbolic auction.

“They sold it to me for a dollar,” Wadsworth said.

In addition to the truck, 13 sets of boots, six jackets, and 1,200 feet of 2 ½-inch hose were included.

“The truck is fully equipped; all it needs is for the tank to be filled with water,” Wadsworth said.

Narvaez added, “I also took a video of the truck … giving directions on how to operate it.”

But one can’t just donate a fire truck to another country. There’s a process for it, and it involves the Denton Program.

The Denton Program, which is jointly administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of State and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, allows U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available on military cargo aircraft to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need.

Former U.S. Sen. Jeremiah Denton created the program as an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Since 1998, more than 5.6 million pounds of humanitarian supplies have been sent to more than 50 countries.

What followed was a flurry of activity as Narvaez made contact with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Managua and Air Force officials who would arrange for the truck’s 3,700-mile journey. The sign things were moving along came when he was put in touch with Chief Master Sgt. Juan Claudio of the 514th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, who went to Princeton to get the truck’s measurements and provide guidance on getting it ready for flight.

The only thing left was the letter of approval -- the airlift certification letter.

It came on June 3.

The letter assigned the 439th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit based at Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts, with airlifting the fire truck on one of their C-5 Galaxy aircraft.

On Aug. 12, all the work by Narvaez and Claudio, along with others and their organizations, came together.

For Narvaez, there is one final takeaway from this.

“I want Airmen to see this and know that they can do this as well,” Narvaez said. “There are many countries in the world that can use our help and there are always things you can do to help people.”