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Old hoses find new home

Pat Cleary, of the Superior Fire Department, loads a palette of donated hoses onto a trailer that will be shipped to Nicaragua at the Fire Department headquarters on Tower Avenue on Thursday morning. Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

The Superior Fire Department sent a hefty donation Thursday to Nicaragua -- 98 50-foot hoses as well as metal adapters and nozzles.

"It gives it a second life instead of ending up in the landfill," said Mike Hoyt, a driver with the fire department.

It's the first time the department has donated items through the Partners of the Americas program, which dates back to when the 1950- and 1960-era hoses were new. If Colette Pekkala of South Range has her way, it won't be the last.

"Because you actually see that equipment down there being utilized, saving lives," Pekkala said.

For years, the South Range woman has been using word of mouth to let friends and those she meets know about the needs of Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America. She's even purchased a used ambulance at auction to send to the city of Nindiri in the Masaya department of Nicaragua.

All the firefighters are volunteers, Pekkala said. In Nindiri, the commander, his wife and son have taken that a step further by volunteering their home.

"That is the fire department, their home," Pekkala said. "So they sleep there, all the communication is there for their area." They train there and cook meals in the home kitchen.

"It's so personal to them," Pekkala said. "And they need everything."

The Superior Fire Department donation was approved by the city. It was loaded on a flatbed trailer Thursday along with 22 sets of used turnout gear the department phased out two years ago, medical supplies and some bikes that had been donated from other groups.

"It's not worth really anything so it's a fairly easy process to say we're looking for a place where we can donate this rather than throw it away," said Superior Fire Chief Steve Panger.

The hose still passes quality tests and is built to last. But it's twice as heavy as the department's newer hoses, and is no longer needed to stock the reserve.

Although the department does occasionally sell hose to construction companies, this wasn't going to fly off the shelves.

"If we got rid of them, they would be scrapped," Panger said. "This way they can actually use them, things that we don't use anymore. We don't have to pay to get rid of them. They're not going to end up in the landfill."

Wisconsin has been paired with Nicaragua through the Partners of the Americas Program for 51 years. In 1968, partner cities were established. Superior is partnered with two small rural areas, La Geteada and El Coral. The Wisconsin Army National Guard built a couple of clinics in the area and a Superior chapter was connected with people in those communities to help supply the clinics.

"But we couldn't generate enough momentum to try and keep that relationship going," said Gary Valley with Catholic Charities Bureau in Superior, and the chapter shut down about 10 years ago.

He was the one who connected the fire department with the program. Hoyt's father learned about it while taking Valley's Spanish course at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and passed the information on.

The donations will be flown down to Nicaragua free of charge by the Army and Air National Guard.

Valley and Pekkala would love to jump start a new Superior chapter. Pekkala has been traveling down to Nicaragua for 13 years through the Partners of the Americas program.

"Every time we learn something new," she said. "We go down, everybody teaches in the learning center. I started out teaching horticulture. From there every year I try to teach something different. You name it, even doing nails."

She continues to solicit donations from folks she meets — mixing machines, sewing machines, fabric, fire department and medical supplies, and much more.

"Once you see how it's utilized, how grateful they are, it makes a big difference," Pekkala said.

For more information on the Wisconsin-Nicaragua Partners of the Americas program, visit www.wisnic.org or call 715-398-5363.

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