A group of Edmonton firefighters has returned home after a 20-day trip to Ukraine, where they provided local first responders with much-needed training and equipment.
“The trip was extremely rewarding for everyone involved,” said Edmonton firefighter Kevin Royle, who started the aid project after a visit to Ukraine five years ago. He started the aid project after seeing firsthand how war has stripped resources across the nation, including the country’s first responders.
“Just to see the look on the people’s faces when we opened up the boxes and started handing stuff over… It was very rewarding, very gratifying.”
The group of seven firefighters and one dispatcher left Edmonton on Sept. 11. Equipped with thousands of dollars in donated gear, medical supplies and other life-saving equipment, the group handed out the nearly 8,000 kilograms of supplies to their Ukrainian counterparts.
READ MORE: Edmonton firefighters provide much-needed donations to Ukrainian colleagues
The new equipment was well received, as much of what the crews were using in Ukraine from the Soviet era and falling apart.
“To compare the equipment they have or are using right now to what we are using in North America, you could only describe it as archaic, old, obsolete,” Royle explained.
“We met with one of the first volunteer services in Ukraine and they literally built their entire fire truck from older vehicles. They built their tools from scratch and they were still using Soviet-era protective equipment — helmets, gloves. In some cases, we even saw guys using ski mitts for gloves for firefighting.”
The trip was also an emotional one for the group, who met with the widows of three firefighters who were instrumental in helping with the aid project. The firefighters were killed on the job while fighting a fire just outside of Lviv, leaving behind their wives and children.
“Meeting with the widows of the fallen firefighters that we met last year was extremely, it was difficult, but it was also very moving and rewarding in its own way,” Royle said.
“We offered our condolences and laid some wreaths at their memorials. It was quite gratifying.”
Royle said the trip really put things into perspective for the Canadian group.
“It really drives the message home that there’s people in the world that are in worse off situations than we are. So we start to look at our problems and realize that there’s bigger issues out there.”
Now that they’re home, the firefighters will put together a report and assess the trip. They plan to continue their relief efforts in Ukraine and already have more pledges to help.
A lot of the donations came from the small businesses, the province and cities of Edmonton and Toronto. Royle said the rotary clubs in Edmonton, Jasper and Vegreville, as well as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress were also tremendously supportive.
Watch below: Kendra Slugoski caught up with the Edmonton group at the airport as they left on their trip to Ukraine.