St. Petersburg Times--North Pinellas

Donated rescue vehicles bound for Mexican island
By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 28, 2003

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A refurbished firetruck and an ambulance left Tuesday for Isla Mujeres, a Mexican island tied to Pinellas County through the Sister Cities program.

The truck and ambulance were secured through donations coordinated by county officials. They left Tuesday from the Port of Tampa and should arrive on Isla Mujeres in about five days.

Isla Mujeres - home to 11,000 people - has no firetruck and one ambulance that "was on its last wheels," said county Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd, who helped organized the effort.

The idea for the donation began with a very different kind of vehicle: a sailboat. For 35 years, yachts in the Regata Del Sol al Sol have raced each year from St. Petersburg to Isla Mujeres, an island 6 miles long and a half-mile wide off Cancun.

Each year, many yachts carry special cargo - school supplies and medicine for residents, said George Crook, regatta chairman. Crook has his own boat, the Captain Crook, and has sailed the 456-mile race four times.

The race usually takes two days for the top finishers and five for the stragglers.

"The Gulf Stream turns between Cuba and the Yucatan, so it's a real challenge," Crook said. "It depends on how well they sail the Gulf Stream."

Last year, Crook arrived in Isla Mujeres, talked to local officials and heard about another challenge.

"I thought what we could do is we would come back and raise money; and in four or five years, we'd have a firetruck," Crook said Tuesday.

But that's not what happened.

Crook told the story to Todd. She talked to county fire and EMS officials.

"Can you imagine calling 911 and nobody comes?" Todd said. "I'm really happy to see it came together, and that so many people have good hearts."

Dwaine Booth, assistant director of county EMS and Fire Administration, made some calls and found a 1985 firetruck that a Bradenton truck sales company, 10-8 Fire Equipment, had taken as a trade-in and was willing to donate.

County fleet maintenance put in new brakes, painted the truck and made other repairs. Then local fire departments began donating equipment. The Clearwater Fire Department gave nozzles, axes and other equipment. Madeira Beach gave 800 feet of fire hose. Lealman, firefighting uniforms. Oldsmar, breathing apparatus units.

Then American Medical Response, the company that Pinellas contracts with for EMS service, donated a 1996 ambulance.

Booth said the county is still seeking donations for more equipment and plans to help train firefighters on Isla Mujeres.