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L.A. Trade Tech College Students Prepare Firetruck For Haiti

Alex Janin |
November 1, 2013 | 12:32 p.m. PDT

Guest Contributor

(L.A. Trade Tech firetruck/Alex Janin, Neon Tommy)
(L.A. Trade Tech firetruck/Alex Janin, Neon Tommy)
Students at the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College are putting finishing touches on a restored fire truck bound for Haiti to help rebuild a community shattered by an earthquake several years ago.

Since the Compton Fire Department donated the truck in September 2012, about 10 students have been consistently repairing and refurbishing it, and a handful of others have rotated through. It will go to Carrefour, a residential neighborhood in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010 destroyed many structures, including entire hospitals and other medical facilities. Since then, some fires that started were simply left to burn out due to lack of resources. About half of the buildings in the worst affected areas of Carrefour were demolished, said the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Jose Lerma, a 20-year-old L.A. Trade College student, has been working on the fire truck for over a year. Lerma said he will miss the truck when it finally ships because it was his first hands-on project.
But, “if Haiti needs a fire truck, they must be in need, and it makes me feel good to work on this for them,” he said.

This is not the first time a fire truck has been donated to the impoverished country. City fire departments in Bridgeport, Conn., and Boston recently contributed unneeded engines to different towns in Haiti to aid relief efforts.

Instructor Brian Ferre believes the project is not only a good opportunity to help Haiti, but it’s “a good way for students to improve their craft.”

Students in the two-year collision repair and refinishing program do hands-on maintenance projects. Since the beginning of the semester, students have worked on the final elements of repairing the fire truck: detailing mirrors, installing the light bar, and painting signs and logos.

The goal is to ship the truck in December, said Ferre.

More recently, students welded new parts, such as the driver and side storage doors, and rewired the inside of the truck. The students admit there have been some mistakes along the way.

“When we first started welding doors, we burned some holes that we had to fix,” said 22-year-old student Gerardo Castro. “But we were beginners. We researched and found out the method and fixed it ourselves.”

Lerma added: “The only way to learn anything is to mess something up.”

Ferre said the hardest part for students was the sheer size of the truck.

“They were entry-level students,” he said. “They would look at it and say, ‘We don’t know how to do it.’ It was so much bigger. But they rose to the occasion.”

Despite a few setbacks, students are on track to ship the truck by the deadline.

Fire Capt. Jonathan Bowers with the Los Angeles County Stentorians is coordinating the effort. Bowers said the rig will be handed over to the Department of Defense and will likely go on a military ship or be flown over on a military transport aircraft. 

Members of the Stentorians organization, a chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, will also provide residents in Haiti with training to operate the truck, said Bowers.

The Haiti Consulate in Washington, D.C. did not respond to phone messages and emails for comment.
On a recent weekday, the truck was wrapped up in the corner of the workshop, surrounded by other broken-down automobiles. Through the clear plastic wrap, the truck’s glossy lime-green color stood out. Lerma said the truck was wrapped to protect its fresh paint job from “overspray,” excess paint from other projects.

“Not only does it feel great that I took part in restoring an old fire truck, but it feels even greater knowing that because of our work and dedication, we are able to help out,” said Castro.

Lerma added: “The truck will always be on my mind as the first project, and the fact that it will be given to a country that needs it makes it an even better memory.”

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