The story behind Estonian-donated ladder truck that saved lives today

21.09.2023 18:10

Today, in a tragic incident in Ukraine, an Estonian-donated fire ladder truck played a crucial role in responding to a dire situation. Russian forces attacked a hotel in the city of Cherkasy, resulting in casualties, including fatalities.

Today marks International Day of Peace, declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 1981 with the goal of urging all nations and peoples to cease hostilities and abstain from violence on this day. However, at 5:40 in the early morning, a rocket struck the Tsentralnyi Hotel, demonstrating Russia's disregard for this call for peace by targeting a civilian establishment and claiming the lives of sleeping individuals.

The only silver lining in this tragedy is the Estonian-donated fire ladder truck, which is on-site to help save lives.

Karol Sepik, the former head of the Ukrainian Firefighters Assistance Project, who organized the purchase of the ladder truck, explains its importance: "The ladder truck can deliver extinguishing water where it's impossible to reach from below in such buildings. Additionally, it allows for a rapid response to reach individuals trapped on higher floors."

Sepik recounts how the ladder truck made its way to Cherkasy: "At the beginning of this year, I asked local firefighters to create a list of needs and prioritize it like a ranking – the most essential things first. In response to this proposal, they expressed a critical need for a ladder truck, and everything else could wait. Their existing vehicle was falling apart in multiple places and would likely fail completely on the next call."

The search for a used but reliable ladder truck began. "Everyone has seen fire ladder trucks, but when you want to buy one, it falls under relatively specific rescue equipment. That means good one is not that easy to find. Our Finnish partners also joined in the search, exploring the Nordic market," Sepik recalls.

"Ultimately, I came across a 1994 Mercedes-Benz for sale in Germany, with only 26,000 kilometers driven. Due to a tight schedule, there was no time to go to Germany, so the process started with a background check on the seller, communication with the seller, and guidance from Estonian rescue technicians."

This two-axle machine seemed perfect for urban firefighting – it maneuvers excellently in tight spaces. "The seller confirmed that the Mercedes was like new, and with the help of a transportation company, it was delivered to Poland, where local firefighters had set aside storage space for it. From there, the Ukrainians took over," he describes.

A few days later, the Mercedes arrived at the Cherkasy firefighters' garage. After a thorough inspection, the message came that the vehicle was indeed like new – everything worked, signs of wear were minimal, and it surpassed its old counterpart in technical capability.

"At that moment, a weight was lifted off my chest because buying something remotely, no matter how much control and analysis you do, still carries some risk," Sepik remarks.

The ladder truck has since been deployed to various incidents, holding up well and likely serving for many more years. The concern remains that, for instance, in the larger nearby city of Uman, there is also a lack of a ladder truck.

"Working with various partners, we continue to support Ukrainian firefighters, and in collaboration with the Haapsalu city government, we are collecting donations for a ladder truck for Uman," he added.

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