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Mission to Mexico crews heads out for trip No. 3

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on June 12, 2009 at 2:00 pm with No Comments »
June 12, 2009 2:00 pm

More than 20 volunteers will be heading out Saturday with emergency vehicles bound for Mexico.

The trip is the third “Mission to Mexico.”

The News Tribune chronicled the first two trips.

During this trip, volunteers are taking down 11 emergency vehicles. They’ll be delivered to small towns, including Autlan, Ayutla, Barra de Navidad, El Grullo and San Pancho. The trip was originally scheduled for May but was postponed because of the swine flu outbreak.

This year, Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer (who’s a volunteer with the mission) promises to blog and Twitter from the road. Follow the progress on the Mission to Mexico Web site here or on Twitter here.

Below you’ll find a story from September, which recapped the second Mission to Mexico trip and recounted how the mission began.

No good deed goes without delays, red tape

As the Mission to Mexico crew again learns from experience, it pays to be flexible when delivering donations to towns in need 3,000 miles away.

By Stacey Mulick;

Friday,September 26, 2008

The Mission to Mexico volunteers who’ve twice brought emergency equipment to small towns in Mexico always have a Plan “A”- and know to have plans “B” through “Z.”

That was never more evident than last weekend, when the crew of six South Sound residents delivered a firetruck, rescue equipment, computers, school supplies and toys to the country.

During the six-day trip, they dealt with torrential rains, rock slides and a last-minute hang-up with customs red tape.

“We always know that once we get off the plane things aren’t always going to go as planned,” Ed Troyer, the Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman who helped organize the humanitarian mission, said this week. “We have to adapt as we roll.”

In the end, the firetruck got to the small town of Ayutla (and was quickly put into use). Most of the rest of the goods are being delivered to the towns of El Grullo, El Limon, Autlan and San Pancho this week, after the volunteers returned home.

“You miss out in the fun of handing them out,” Bill Garrison, the chief investigator for the Pierce County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney who took part in the mission, said Thursday. “The thing that matters is it getting there and, boy, they really need it.”

The effort began nearly three years ago, when Gig Harbor resident Jose Lopez returned from a trip to his hometown of Ayutla. While there, Lopez tried to save five people involved in a head-on crash. Two adults and a baby died because there was no ambulance available to provide medical treatment.

Lopez, who co-owns El Pueblito restaurant in Gig Harbor, shared the horrifying accounts with friends, and the humanitarian mission was born. It was later nicknamed Mission to Mexico.

Lopez worked with Troyer and Phil Michelsen, a retired Seattle firefighter, to gather surplus equipment and raise money.

In September 2007, a contingent of South Sound residents drove 3,000 miles from Gig Harbor to Ayutla to deliver three patrol cars, an ambulance and emergency equipment. The team battled violent storms, bad roads and numerous mechanical breakdowns during the six-day trip.

The team didn’t take a surplus firetruck donated by the Fire Department in Sultan, Snohomish County. After the group returned, the members continued to raise money to get the additional supplies to Ayutla and waited for help to deliver the firetruck.

The U.S. Air Force stepped in. A C-17 Globemaster from McChord Air Force Base delivered the fire engine to Guadalajara on Sept. 19. The flight was made possible by the federal Denton Amendment for humanitarian missions conducted by U.S. military units.

The truck cleared customs after six hours and was delivered to Ayutla early Saturday. Most of the rest of the 12 pallets of equipment cleared customs Monday and were scheduled to be delivered Wednesday.

Twenty-six computers and emergency equipment went to San Pancho, where Garrison has a summer home. The town now has more than 100 computers that were surplus from Pierce County.

“They are all just getting worked to death,” Garrison said.

Some firefighter gear remains hung up in customs, Troyer said Thursday. It needs to be inspected by the health department before it’s released.

“That’s not something we’ve had to do before,” Troyer said.

Lopez said he’s happy how the trip turned out, and that his hometown has gotten some needed vehicles, equipment and training.

“It’s just a dream come true and a huge accomplishment,” he said. “I am really glad to be a part of it.”

The group is planning a third venture to Mexico early next year to deliver more vehicles and supplies. In the meantime, members will be seeking donations and collecting equipment.

Troyer said he already has two ambulances, a five-passenger fire engine, a police car and a bus equipped for handicapped riders. The bus will go to Ayutla. The other rigs will be distributed to other towns.

“We just discovered a lot of need,” Troyer said. “Once you get down there and see the stuff in action, it makes you say, ‘Wow, we need to do this again.'”

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