Fire service personnel are dedicated to helping people in need, no matter where they are or what the circumstance.
Greenfield Fire Department Battalion Chief James Mollet just never guessed he’d be traveling thousands of miles to fulfill his duty.
What began as a charitable gesture of donating used fire equipment to a fire department in the third world country of Honduras nearly a year and a half ago has morphed into a mission trip for Mollet will fly to Choloma later this summer and spend eight days training firefighters how to properly use that equipment.
“To know that we’ve helped a department that prior to us making donations was fighting fires very dangerously, to realize that you’re becoming a bigger part of something, that’s pretty amazing,” Mollet said.
“Throughout the world, firefighters have a brotherhood and a sisterhood. It means a lot to me that we did give them tools to help them do their job safely, but it means even more to go and make sure that they do.”
Conversation turns into action
Mollet’s adventure began nearly 18 months ago when an acquaintance of his, Ed Kolinski, mentioned his church, St. Mary’s Parish in Menomonee Falls, had donated fire gear and equipment from Wisconsin fire departments to the station in Choloma.
At the time, the was updating some of its equipment, and Mollet asked if it could donate the old stuff, rather thandiscarding it or leaving it around the station to collect dust.
“I talked to then-chief (Russ) Spahn and asked if we had anything we could give,” Mollet said. “We went through both stations and found a ton of equipment.
“By our standards, it was outdated, not used, but somebody could use it somewhere. We sent it there. They genuinely needed it and I’ve gotten several letters back from their lieutenant colonel stating they are just amazed at Greenfield’s generosity.”
The department gathered enough equipment to fill three-fourths of a semi trailer. The load contained breathing apparatus and compressors, essential pieces of equipment in most departments across the United States, but a luxury in Choloma, where prior to receiving the donations, firefighters would enter fires with nothing more than a wet handkerchief on their face.
“By our standards, you can’t even comprehend that,” Mollet said.
Some of the equipment has gone to neighboring departments, and the overwhelming generosity shown by Greenfield and others has allowed the Cholomans to set up a satellite station in a little town outside of the city where residents previously never had fire or emergency medical service coverage, according to Mollet.
But while the donation of equipment was nice, Mollet realized knowing how to properly and efficiently use the gear was essential. Training manuals and YouTube videos were helpful, but nothing would compare to having someone show the Honduran firefighters how to operate the tools in person.
Enter Mollet, who will leave behind his wife and three children this summer to continue the mission he started months ago.
In addition, he has been asked by the Choloma training officer to show the department different firefighting techniques, plans to introduce ways to self-rescue or rescue a fellow downed officer using the breathing apparatus, and wants to learn more about the structure the Cholomans have when responding to emergencies.
“This is the culmination of putting the equipment and the training together to make a better and safer organization,” Greenfield Fire Chief Jon Cohn said of Mollet’s mission. “It’s another part of our responsibility to share information and training that we have with others. It’s an act of extreme volunteerism. That’s the nature of who (firefighters) are, they give back to the community, and in this case, the world.”
What’s more is Mollet sent out emails to the fire chiefs in departments across the state asking if they had items they could donate, and so far 10 different departments have already donated equipment, joining Greenfield and four other departments whose involvement predated Mollet’s.
“Were getting all sorts of things these guys (in Honduras) could use,” Mollet said. “It’s been a great experience, starting all of this and getting it going.”
When he returns, Mollet hopes to form a foundation that facilitates the donation of used fire equipment.
“From my understanding, in 20-plus years in fire service, anytime we had gear that was outdated or not usable by our standards, we just got rid of it,” Mollet said. “But for someone who has nothing, it’s something.”
Mollet experiences generosity as well
Some of the costs for Mollet’s trip have been offset by donations from family and friends, co-workers and the Local 1963 firefighters union. Mollet has picked up the rest of the expenses that include airfare, vaccinations, and various medications, including those to prevent the contraction of malaria.
“It’s been humbling,” Mollet said. “I’ve received tremendous support from the members here.”
The Choloman fire department runs 24-hour shifts with eight people on duty per day. Firefighters respond to calls for fires, emergency medical service and ambulance transportation, and they get their occasional animal rescue call, just like the Greenfield fire department does.
“I was speaking with their training officer and he said they had just rescued an owl or a hawk off a roof,” Mollet said.
At the request of the lieutenant colonel, the equivalent of a fire chief, Mollet will take up residence in the Choloma fire station, where he and his Greenfield colleagues have become heroes of sorts. When Greenfield initially sent down a load of gear, Mollet arranged for some of the department’s badges to be included. He’s received pictures of the Choloman firefighters wearing them on their uniforms.
“It’s kind of amazing because with all the departments that have jumped on board, well over a dozen, they chose to put our patch on their shirt,” he said.
“Someone asked me why Honduras? Why Choloma? I said, it has to be someone, somewhere. I know there are thousands of departments in smaller cities out there that could use help, but it just so happened the day I was with my acquaintance he was talking about this situation. By our nature, firefighters are ingrained to want to help people. And I think I’m doing it on a grander scale right now.”