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Direct Relief ships out Project Joint Guardian firefighting gear for Ukraine

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A coalition of firefighters from abroad and around the U.S., including some from Santa Barbara County, will deploy to Ukraine over the next week.

The mission is part of Project Joint Guardian, a non-profit organization made up of firefighters helping people in need around the world.

Santa Barbara-based Direct Relief and Santa Barbara County Fire Foundation have partnered with Project Joint Guardian to get much-needed supplies to war-torn Ukraine.

Dan Hovey, Director of Emergency Response at Direct Relief, opens one of 700 emergency medical backpacks bound for Ukraine.

"We're invited by the State Emergency Services of Ukraine to help with first responder efforts, search and rescue efforts," said Dan Hovey, Direct Relief's Director of Emergency Response. "And, not only to join them and start saving people that have been impacted by this war but also train them on some of these more technical supplies."

Hovey pointed to a device known as the "jaws of life," commonly used to extricate people from the wreckage of a car crash. The hydraulic tool will help save lives in a different way.

"Now in a war zone, there's going to be people covered in rubble from being in a bombed out building."

The coalition of 20 members will be greeted with critical supplies, collected by firefighters for firefighters. It is a story News Channel 3-12 first brought viewers last week.

Teams will be outfitted with search and rescue gear, personal protective equipment, and emergency medical backpacks. The supplies were collected during the past couple of weeks from fire stations across California, including Santa Barbara, Montecito, Carpinteria Summerland and Ventura.

Stations down the coast in Southern California and Moreno Valley and as far north as Salinas also donated surplus gear.

The collection was packed at Direct Relief's warehouse in Santa Barbara. It is slated to ship out to Poland on Wednesday. Once in Europe, the team will assist and help train first responders in Poland and Ukraine.

"Each member is going to be getting one of our emergency medical backpacks, of which we've sent about 700 of these to Ukraine to equip field medics and EMT's, search and rescue teams as well," Hovey said.

To date, Direct Relief has donated 250 tons of medicines and medical supplies to the Ukrainian effort. The humanitarian non-profit also donated PPE for the first responders.

"Their focused on protecting civilians but they need to stay safe as well while they're going through these pretty precarious situations, digging through collapsed buildings, blown out vehicles and all sorts of things like that."

Hovey and his colleague, Tony Morain, agreed that firefighters are already heroic in their own right. This mission elevates that status.

"I get to speak with real heroes every single day that are on the ground and helping their people and helping their community," said Hovey. "This one, to be able to see these California firefighters heading out to an active war zone you know, hats off to them for going out there. Nobody's up to the task better than these guys."

Direct Relief paid the $50,000 travel costs to fly these firefighters to Ukraine and to purchase any equipment and gear needed.

Hovey said Direct Relief is currently working directly in eight different cities including Kharkiv and Odessa. He added that their humanitarian efforts will be on-going in Ukraine.

"This is an acute phase of this disaster. Like a natural disaster where, you know, the first few weeks are really the urgent need to respond, this is going to be a long, drawn out response that can last six months to a year. We don't really know. So, we'll continue to work with the people on the ground."

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about Beth, click here

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