I'm impressed. "Uncle Bob" did something for someone else.... (although no doubt this added to his political standing somehow)

Gear sent to Afghan firefighters languishing at Kandahar Airfield
DND requested equipment collected by Langford Fire Department, MP says

Rob Shaw, Times Colonist Published: Friday, July 25, 2008

A shipment of used firefighting gear, gathered by Canadians for their impoverished counterparts in Afghanistan at the request of the military, has been sitting at Kandahar Airfield for almost a year because defence officials are worried it could be made into explosive devices.

Fire departments across the country donated the gear, valued at up to $400,000, which included helmets, ladders, clothing, a compressor and 45 breathing apparatus with spare oxygen bottles.

It was all collected by the Langford Fire Department, which spearheaded the donation drive after visiting crews in Kandahar City and Kabul and noticing they battled blazes in civilian clothes without even the basics of a modern fire department.

A Department of National Defence employee provided a list of needed gear in 2005, e-mails show. Langford filled the list last summer.

The Canadian Forces distributed some of the donated items. But the breathing gear and oxygen bottles were left sitting at the Kandahar military base.

"The rationale is that the oxygen tanks on the breathing apparatus could be used to make an IED [improvised explosive device]," said Keith Martin, Liberal MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, who has been negotiating with the government to solve the impasse.

"Well, this is absurd because they are making IEDs anyway and the equipment that was sent over by our firefighters is what was requested by the Department of National Defence.

"Somebody at a desk at Kandahar air force base is blocking lifesaving equipment to get to the Kandahar firefighters."

Martin wrote the defence minister asking for help, but said he received a reply advising him the oxygen tanks could be turned into IEDs and therefore the gear would be returned or destroyed. Martin accused "pencil-pushers" in the government of blocking a goodwill donation that Afghans would appreciate.

Langford sent the same oxygen tanks to Afghanistan in 2004 without complaint, said Langford Fire Chief Bob Beckett.

While disappointed, firefighters don't want to criticize the soldiers.

"As a Canadian who is very supportive of our Canadian military, we must defer everything to them," said Beckett.

But he acknowledged firefighters were upset when they learned some of their Afghan colleagues suffered smoke inhalation while fighting fires at a prison break last month. Meanwhile, the gear they needed was sitting unused at the airfield.

Langford has spoken with American officials in Kabul who suggested they could distribute the Canadian donations, said Beckett. Langford is also seeking help from the Canadian International Development Agency and non-governmental organizations, he said.

The Department of National Defence confirmed the gear is sitting in Kandahar, but denied it was worried about IEDs. "Some of the equipment wasn't distributed because of the fact it was deemed to be unsafe for operations," said Lt. Dean Menard, public affairs officer.

He said the main concern was Afghans could injure themselves because they weren't able to maintain the gear. However, Langford paid for Afghan firefighters to fly to Victoria in April to train on the equipment.

At the time, the Canadians also donated a mechanical jaws system to the Afghans. Beckett said it, along with future donations, will remain in Canada until firefighters figure out how to actually get them to crews in Afghanistan.

rfshaw@tc.canwest.com

Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008


Some of the equipment wasn't distributed because of the fact it was deemed to be unsafe for operations," said Lt. Dean Menard, public affairs officer
On that note, I call "BS". For all that Chief Beckett might be a royal pain sometimes, I am under no illusions that the gear he sent, while it might be used, was still top-notch stuff. No matter what my personal opinion of the man is, his boys do good work, and they would only send the best they could get.