ASUNCION, Paraguay – A delegation led by Maj. Gen. Gary Keefe, Massachusetts adjutant general, delivered critical firefighting gear to Paraguay, the Massachusetts National Guard’s partner in the State Partnership Program, on May 16.
Massachusetts fire departments contributed 1,000 sets of firefighter personal protective equipment and two fully equipped fire trucks to aid Paraguay’s military firefighters. They made the first delivery of about 500 sets of PPE after Massachusetts’ 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade collected, organized and packaged the donations before shipping them to Paraguay aboard a Maine Air National Guard KC-135R Stratotanker from the 101st Air Refueling Wing. The rest of the equipment, to include two fully equipped fire trucks, is scheduled for delivery later this year.
“This equipment will not only enhance the capabilities of the Paraguayan military forces but will also provide them with the necessary tools to protect the lives and property of their citizens. It is a gesture of friendship that embodies the true essence of our partnership,” said Keefe. “This donation came from the lasting relationships formed between our state partnership team and fire departments across Massachusetts with the support of our citizens.”
Personal protective equipment can mean the difference between life and death for firefighters and military members. So, when U.S. Army Capt. Christopher McCrobie of the Massachusetts National Guard discovered Paraguayan firefighters were sustaining heavy injuries from heat exposure due to a lack of PPE, leading them to fight fires in shorts and sandals at times, the Massachusetts firefighting community responded.
Over the past year McCrobie, the Massachusetts National Guard State Partnership program manager, and the MANG partnered to contact local fire departments to collect fire-retardant helmets, jackets, pants, vests and gloves. After collecting the equipment, McCrobie and the Massachusetts SPP staff worked directly with Paraguay’s National Emergency Secretariat and fire brigades to strengthen Paraguay’s fire prevention and firefighting capacity.
“They don’t have the resources that we have. Our gear falls out of National Fire Protection Agency standards every 10 years, even if it was never or lightly used,” said McCrobie. “This was an easy way for fire departments who may have a lot of excess gear they can’t use anymore due to regulatory standards to donate to our Military Division, so they can, in turn, give it to Paraguay.”
MANG’s 179th and 180th Engineer Detachments (Firefighting) are scheduled to conduct training missions with their Paraguayan military and civilian counterparts after they receive all the donated equipment.
“It’s a great gesture from the Massachusetts National Guard, and will be a huge help for us, and will help us to be prepared for firefighting,” said Paraguayan air force Lt. Col. Daniel Antunez, the liaison officer to the U.S. Embassy for the Paraguayan air force. “From this, I can see that the people from Massachusetts really have the intention to tighten this partnership and reinforce this relationship.”
The training and donations are just the latest milestone in the MANG-Paraguay partnership, established in 2001 under Keefe’s father, Maj. Gen. George Keefe, who was the 39th adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard. Paraguayan leaders lauded the multigenerational trust and capabilities forged through the program.
“The SPP brings many, many programs for military engineers, aviation and peacekeeping missions,” said retired Paraguayan army Master Sgt. Ruben Paniagua, who has witnessed the partnership mature since the first SPP exchange in 2001.
At a Paraguayan state ceremony on May 19, Keefe addressed the program’s history and future, crediting the mutually beneficial partnership as an enduring strength of the Massachusetts National Guard and America. The ceremony, also dedicated to Keefe’s late father, commemorated the official reception of the firefighting equipment by each branch of the Paraguayan armed forces.
“This partnership has paved the way for both of our nations to learn and grow together, ensuring that we remain prepared to face any challenges that come our way. Moreover, this partnership serves as a symbol of the enduring presence of the United States in Paraguay,” Keefe said at the ceremony. “As we continue to strengthen our bonds, we reinforce our commitment to ensuring the safety and security of both our nations.”