LEWISTON – Those who donated to the Upper Mountain Fire Department to help them purchase a brand new $160,000 ambulance this year will see their donation go even farther – about 3,000 miles farther.
A 1992 E450 Ford ambulance, which is being taken out of commission to make room for the new ambulance, will be donated to the people of San Pedro, Belize.
San Pedro, with about the same population as the Town of Lewiston, is a coastal tourist community in Central America on the Western end of the Caribbean. The English-speaking former British colony, once known as British Honduras, is known for its great beauty – rainforests, Mayan ruins and sandy beaches on the blue sea.
There are tourist areas, but about half the residents live in poverty and don’t have access to proper medical care, said Alex Parmelee.
Parmelee, 48, a medical school graduate who was a Colorado emergency medical technician for 25 years and operations manager for San Pedro Emergency Services, was in Lewiston recently to pick up the donation. He will drive the old ambulance to Miami, where it will be loaded onto a barge for the final leg of its trip to San Pedro.
“San Pedro is about 3,000 miles from here, that’s about from New York to LA. It’s a close neighbor. It’s a community the same size as Lewiston and it’s never had an ambulance – not once,” said Parmelee.
The San Pedro Clinic is set to receive a second donated ambulance from Houston, he added.
San Pedro’s first attempt at an ambulance system was a Tuk Tuk, a three-wheel motorized rickshaw, Parmelee said. Then the clinic upgraded to a pickup truck with a plywood box on the back to transport patients. Parmelee said he has seen people transported to the clinic in the back of a taxi. Once, a man with a broken femur got himself to the clinic by bicycle, he said.
“They are going to be in disbelief when they see this,” Parmelee said of the donated ambulance. “One of their biggest complaints there is a lack of medical care. They know what good health care is. They see it on television.”
Parmelee said he was put in touch with the Upper Mountain Fire Department through Dominick Walenczak, who lives in the area and works for Twin City Ambulance. Walenczak got involved with the San Pedro Clinic while visiting his parents, John Robert and Millie Walenczak-Robert. The Amherst couple live in San Pedro for six months out of the year.
“I guess it’s self-serving. I want good ambulance service for when my parents are living there,” said Walenczak.
Walenczak became the San Pedro’s clinic’s procurement officer. He said when he heard about the Lewiston company buying a new ambulance, he contacted them about donating their used ambulance.
Walenczak said he is also working on getting his credentials in Belize and plans to train ambulance members via online services such as Google and Skype.
In addition to the ambulance, equipment including a stretcher, cardiac monitors and electronics are also being donated.
“It will be the same level of cardiac monitors being used by paramedics at Twin City and Rural/Metro ambulances,” said Walenczak.
An Upper Mountain member and head of the ambulance committee, Jennifer Schultz, said they might have gotten $5,000 if they had sold the box-style truck as a tool truck, but she said donating the old ambulance was “the right thing to do.”
The Upper Mountain Fire Department is one of six volunteer fire companies protecting the Town of Lewiston and is one of the busiest volunteer fire companies in Niagara County, responding to 1,300 to 1,400 calls per year. The company also has a 2002 ambulance, which will remain in service.