HAZEL PARK -- A small town in the Dominican Republic got its first fire engine for free thanks to two Hazel Park firefighters and a baseball player.
Hazel Park Fire Chief Raymond DeWalt and firefighter Kyle Rowinski joined up with former Detroit Tigers pitcher Roman Colon to give an old city fire truck a new lease on life.
"It was the most unbelievable experience of my life," Rowinski said. "When we got down there they had a 10-mile parade for us and all the townspeople were there. You would have thought we had just given them a hundred million dollars."
The 20-year-old fire engine was one of two that Hazel Park replaced last year. The other old fire engine was sold, but the best offer DeWalt could get for the remaining engine was for scrap metal.
"Nobody wanted it," DeWalt said. "Kyle was working on finding a way to donate it. I'm friends with Roman, who is from the Dominican Republic, and he said his city had never seen a fire engine before."
DeWalt added that Colon paid the air fares for the chief and Rowinski, who used their own vacation time to go to the San Isidro U.S. Air Force Base in Santo Domingo when the old fire engine arrived.
"There was no cost to Hazel Park," DeWalt said. "Roman also
paid our room and board and the Denton Program arranged to fly the fire truck down there."
The federal Denton Program allows private U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes to transport humanitarian supplies to countries in need.
The fire engine was flown down on Jan. 26. After it was unloaded, the engine was driven to the town of Villa Elysia, outside Santiago.
"It is such a poor town," DeWalt said. "But they made it like a Memorial Day parade because they were so excited about the fire truck."
DeWalt and Rowinski showed the local firemen how to operate the fire engine. Rowinski noted that the fire engine runs well and has a new water pump.
Before the truck arrived, the local fire department equipment consisted of several fire extinguishers which the men would take to fire scenes from whoever would give them a ride.
Translators bridged the communication gap between the local firemen and two Hazel Park firefighters as they explained the fire truck's operations.
"They had converted an old house into their fire station," Rowinski said. "For their final exam a small fire was set in a baseball field down the road and we all responded with the fire engine and everybody did their job."
The townspeople and mayor were on hand. They were very grateful and treated the two Hazel Park firefighters like royalty, DeWalt said.
"It gives you a lump in your throat," he said. "It was amazing to see how appreciative they were. The fire truck wasn't of any use to Hazel Park, but for them it was like an opening into a new world."
Rowinski said he'll always remember the local people yelling words of thanks and praise after the fire engine arrived in their town.
"We were able to take something that was going to be thrown in the garbage dump and helped a community," he said. "I think our next step will be to seek donations from other fire departments for old boots, helmets and gear they have taken out of service and send it down there."