LIMBAA...A1/2I, Latvia -- In 1747, fire burnt this town to the ground. Chicago, London and many other cities have befallen the same fate, only to rebuild and re-energize their fire disaster preparedness programs. Because of limited resources, this small Latvian town of about 8,000 has only been able to afford one fire station with a solitary door through which it must deploy its six fire trucks. Local rescue officials say this dangerously extends the time it takes firefighters to respond to emergencies.

But soon, this small fire station - and nine more like it spread throughout the country - will receive the necessary renovations to improve the timeliness and quality of emergency services received.

The 10 renovation contracts, funded by the U.S. European Command's Civil Military Operations program and administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, will go a long way toward reducing response times in the entire country, said Latvian Col. Intars Zitans, deputy chief of the State Fire and Rescue Service of Latvia.

"Obviously this is going to improve our capability to respond to disasters more efficiently," Zitans said at a July 8 groundbreaking ceremony to commence renovation work on the LimbaA...A3/4i fire station. "Together we are stronger and together we can accomplish better things."

According to Rear Adm. William "Andy" Brown, EUCOM's director of logistics, there is a large kinship between the military and the rescue services.

"Just as the military is important for security, so is fire and rescue important for the protection of people," Brown said at the event. "And that's why we really want to participate with you in this program."

<b>The projects</b>

Of all 10 U.S.-funded fire station refurbishment projects to be executed throughout Latvia over the next five years, so far only the first two have been awarded: a $109,000 renovation at LimbaA...A3/4i, and $112,000 renovation at Madona. The other eight projects - renovations at fire stations in Aizkraukle, Gulbene, Keipene, Liepaja, Livani, Valka, Ventspils and Strenci - are expected to be awarded by the end of the year and will total about $1.5 million.

The projects come on the heels of a European Union-funded donation to Latvia of standard European-sized fire trucks, which were too large to fit in many of the older fire stations throughout the country, officials said. As such, all 10 renovation projects will at minimum retrofit larger overhead roll-up doors into the garages to support the new trucks.

Historically, the embassy's Office of Defense Cooperation has coordinated social service and infrastructure projects in Latvia to renovate orphanages and senior citizen centers across the country, said Lt. Col. Tom Butler, EUCOM's then-Office of Defense Cooperation chief at the U.S. Embassy Riga, who took over as ODC chief in 2008. It was then, he said, that he saw the opportunity to balance this type of social service support with projects more focused on assisting the country's civil-military disaster response capabilities, which he thought was a more appropriate use for U.S. military dollars. The ODC office did some inquiries with the Latvian government and found the Ministry of Interior's State Fire and Rescue service needed some assistance with their stations.

"Although the fire and rescue service personnel were doing a fantastic job, they needed some help, especially in fitting new trucks that they were receiving into old garages that were built during the Soviet times," said Butler. "So it took off from there."

At LimbaA...A3/4i, 55 miles northeast of the capital, Riga, the contractor will install three new overhead roll-up doors, a heating system, internal and external lighting systems, and paving in front of the new doors.

At Madona, about 100 miles due east of Riga, the contractor will replace existing doors, upgrade the electrical system, as well as construct a small addition in which large overhead roll-up doors will be installed.

According to U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Judy Garber these projects are of strategic diplomatic importance in reinforcing the strong, enduring partnership the United States has had with this small, once-Soviet country.

"The partnership with Latvia is working to make Latvia strong and safe and secure," she said at the event. "And security in its broadest sense is not just about military-to-military ties, but also about civilian-to-military engagement. And by doing something like this, we're helping ... the Latvian fire and rescue services to better be able to be responsive to the needs of its citizens."

<b>National care, local capital</b>

Estonian A/S "Koger & Partnerid," the contractor for both LimbaA...A3/4i and Madona projects, is employing local Latvian subcontractors and using local material to the greatest extent possible. This, according to Regine Stelker, Europe District's project manager, is one of the many benefits of civil-military partnership projects.

"Not only will these projects improve the safety and security of an important ally by improving Latvia's disaster, fire and rescue first response capabilities, but they'll also improve the local economy by having the work done by local laborers," Stelker said.

Garber said she is proud that the strong U.S.-Latvian friendship can extend beyond traditional NATO and military operations to local civil-military projects because the contributions to the welfare of the people through these small projects are beneficial, especially in Latvia.

Latvia was hit hard by the current global economic crisis, the ambassador said, "so to be able to help provide jobs and [buy] construction materials that help give a little bit of the impetus to the stabilization and recovery of the economy is also a wonderful side benefit of what we're doing here."

Garber said the return on investment for these civil-military projects is well worth the investment.

"This is clearly money well spent," she said. "I would like to recognize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for contracting these projects and the U.S. European Command for their commitment to funding these projects."

The Europe District is managing contracts on about 30 other EUCOM-funded civil-military assistance projects - endeavors the Corps is proud to be a part of, said Stelker.

"Hey, we're just excited to help," she said. "We're always thrilled to be called upon by EUCOM to assist with these types of projects because we know they help the lives of literally thousands of sometimes very impoverished people in the most meaningful ways."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16