Everyone is being flooded with images and clips of the devastation happening in Ukraine, from timelines to television it’s been a difficult time for anyone seeing the ramifications of Russia’s invading its neighbor. Many of us feel the weight of feeling like we’re capable of helping but aren’t sure where to start. It’s tough seeing Ukrainians dig through the rubble of their neighborhoods, sometimes in momentary delays between shellings, giving any effort to preserve the hope their way of life might continue.
Despite immense odds and an incredible military force, Russia has yet to break Ukraine’s spirit. Everyday citizens are stepping up to defend their towns, perform their own search & rescue, and stockpile resources. A review of current Ukrainian rescue operations could best be described as valiant, dedicated, and heroic but Ukraine’s rescue infrastructure is decades behind the United States. In a lot of cases, Ukrainian first responders are using 30 year old equipment in response to hospitals, schools, and apartment complexes being decimated by missile strikes.
“In the fire service, one of the things you’ll always here is, it’s either ‘Them before us,’ or ‘Service over self,’ and that’s what they are exemplifying right now,” Eric Hille, Army Veteran and Firefighter, told NBC7 in San Diego
What Can Be Done About It?
Enter Project Joint Guardian. A Mission led by North American Firefighters to enter Ukraine and assist the local first responders conduct rescue missions and equip them with the training & supplies to bolster the long-term rescue operations within the combat zones of Ukraine. This Operation, led by Eric Hille, is determined to do their part to fix that problem. “This is a first-of-its-kind aid mission for firefighters going into a hostile zone,” Hille told Fire Department Coffee.
Described on their FundtheFirst page, “This mission is a mission of firefigher, by firefighters to assist our brother firefighters in Ukraine during this tough time they are facing to protect their communities.”f
Task Force Joint Guardian has been organized by US/Mexico Firefighters United to raise money to help get much needed rescue equipment and medical supplies over to the Firefighters of Ukraine. Task Force Joint Guardian has been actively obtaining much needed rescue equipment for USAR Operations for Ukraine’s Firefighters.
While there, the 10 American Firefighters will assist the Ukraine Firefighters with quick training on the rescue gear and proper use of it. Our Firefighters will be in country for 14 days and will work closely with Ukraine Firefighters to assist in Search & Rescue Operations, care and aid of the injured and wounded and firefighting in needed.
Firefighters in Ukraine
Where Did It Start?
With a handful of Firefighters seeing and feeling the same things we all do.
“When you see hospitals, maternity wards and children’s hospitals being hit, they don’t have the resources to handle it. They don’t have the personnel. They don’t have the equipment,” Hille, told FOX5 in San Diego.
Hille began his quest to find a few good men and women in the fire service to join him in the combat zones of Ukraine for a relief mission unlike any other. It didn’t take long before there was a wave of support. “It’s amazing how many people volunteered and they didn’t even think twice about it,” he told Fire Department Coffee. Veterans, firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs from across the United States, Mexico, and Canada all answered the call.
Derrick Rolfo, USMC Veteran and Firefighter, told KMBC News in Kansas City, “We all saw on the news when that maternity ward got bombed, and that right there for me was just kind of the point for me that I needed to help.” He continued, “As the attacks continue in Ukraine, obviously we’ve got the firefighters working, I mean, 100% of their staff 100% of the time”. Rolfo is one of handful of individuals heading to Ukraine with Hille to conduct this one-of-a-kind operation.
What They’re Going To Do
The original plan was to get the supplies to the border of Poland and Ukraine, and then escort it into the country. As the mission evolved, they realized that the local first responders likely weren’t equipped to handle the spreaders and cutters used in modern day America. The first few days of the mission will be spent going over the equipment, how to use it, and very basic training on tactics like extrication and door popping. In a recent interview with David Mellen over at Valor Fire Training, Rolfo and Greg Zimmerman, a Firefighter and Engineer from South Dakota, spoke about the mission and all of the issues that the Ukrainian first responders are facing, “Our demeanor isn’t to go over there and we’re these really smart American Firefighters let’s show you a thing or two, if they’ve seen it and know how to use it – perfect, let’s go. But if they haven’t seen some of this Paratech equipment, then here you know you can cut this or twist it like this.”
Zimmerman continued, “As far as the modern firetruck element of that, I’m not 100% sure Ukraine has a good amount of modern trucks. The videos and pictures of modern trucks that I’ve seen are the trucks the European Nations have been bringing over, but a lot of the intel we’re being given is that those are being left at the border right now. And so that’s part of our mission – is to get some of those into the country.”
Trucks aren’t the only equipment they’re hoping to get in the country, they’re bringing A LOT of upgrades to the local first responders. Rolfo told Mellen, “We have been extremely fortunate in this mission and so many people donating. We’ve got medical supplies: spreaders, cutters, rams. We’ve got ballistic plates, ballistic armor for us. We’ve got helmets. We’ve got pallets of food to support us because we need to be self-sustainable, we can’t rely on their infrastructure, which is clearly damaged, to support us.”
All are valid points. These are all things that we, as Americans, take for granted to some extent. Mellen pointed out, “We take for granted here in the U.S. if there was a natural disaster or if God forbid there was ever to be a war, we have systems in place like the open Search and Rescue Teams through FEMA, we have stockpiles of equipment, we have things that they don’t. You’re talking about cutters and spreaders, I mean dude, I go back to video of the tank running over the car and they’re literally trying to extricate this dude from the car with a crow bar, that’s totally normal for them because they didn’t have any apparatus that can make it to the scene.”
If you’re wondering how they’re going to breach the language barrier, they’ve got that figured out too. “We actually got really lucky, … three of our guys are Ukrainian speakers and speak some Russian too, but are fluent in Ukrainian,” Zimmerman said on Valor Fire Training. “In an EMS scenario alone, how do you ask them what hurts or how it hurts?”
You can watch the full video below.
What You Can Do
Give. It’s that simple. This team has an incredible mission, and has handled all of the logistics to make this operation compliant with domestic and foreign government policies. They’ve assembled their team, mostly comprised of Veterans who are used to combat situations. Rolfo, former Marine and Contractor, said this would be a “normal Tuesday” for him. They’ve got the tools and the talent, they just need the resources.
This isn’t a simple one-and-done operation. The plan is to make this the first trip of many, each time contributing more tools and training as the invasion of Ukraine evolves. Beyond that, we were privileged to get some time with Zimmerman and ask a few questions. At U.S. Patriot we like to give back to the community any way we can. We always want to make sure with any non-profit organization, that the money is going to the mission and will be used correctly. It’s hard to argue with the way Project Joint Guardian is operating. They’ve moved at warp speed to cover the logistics of international travel, shipping, and delivery… all in an active war zone. The mission is sound, the staff is practiced, and the equipment they’ll be taking with them is superior. We were proud to contribute gear and a financial donation to the cause, and would implore any of our audience to do the same. You can see from the page that average Americans are donating as low as $20 to the operation.
We encourage you to look more into Project Joint Guardian, the borders they cross, and the horizons they expand. Although they have a web domain, the engineer behind designing the site is one of the team members headed overseas and has yet to finish construction. When the site launches, we’ll be sure to share it with you. No one will want to miss the audio, video, and imagery the team captured while in Ukraine, let alone the personal accounts they’ll be able to share. For now you can find them on social channels such as Facebook or Instagram (they post frequently with updates) and their FundtheFirst page, where you can donate to the cause. Individuals can donate personally or anonymously to Project Joint Guardian with any amount, and can even contribute to other great programs on FundtheFirst at the following links.