IBEW members in New Jersey will never know whose lives or how many they helped save in war-ravaged Ukraine, only that they gave first responders a fighting chance against the shrapnel wounds, burns, bullets and other carnage raining down on people just like them.
|Project coordinator and Local 827 lineman Robert LaBerta delivered the 10-pound medical backpacks to the Clifton, N.J., Fire Department, which has collected 42 tons of urgently needed gear and supplies that are shipped by air to Poland and hauled by truck to firefighters and medics across the border in Ukraine. |
Along with donations from a motorcycle club started by one of their own, members of East Windsor Local 827 at Verizon garages in Shrewsbury and Lakewood were able to purchase 11 military-grade trauma backpacks, each containing nearly 200 medical supplies.
“They all dug into their own pockets,” said outside plant technician Robert LaBerta, president and founder of the Knights of the Inferno Firefighter/Military Motorcycle Club. “There’s enough equipment in each kit to probably save three to four people — suture kits, bleed-stop bandages, pretty much anything a combat medic would need.”
The 10-pound backpacks are among a staggering 42 tons of emergency gear and equipment shipped to Ukraine via Poland this spring by another brotherhood — union firefighters in Clifton, N.J., whose project collecting turnouts, air tanks, medical supplies and more snowballed beyond their imagination.
Lt. Mark Drew said the effort was launched by a Clifton firefighter who was born in Ukraine and immigrated as a teenager.
“He started asking neighboring departments about getting gear, envisioning a few sets of gear to send, and very quickly the response was overwhelming,” said Drew, who is a delegate, similar to a steward, in the Clifton local of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association.
The department as a whole took on the project and made a broader pitch through social media and other outreach. “My phone didn’t stop ringing,” Drew said. “Over the course of six to eight weeks, we ended up getting donations from more than 200 departments and organizations all over the nation.”
Local 827 was one of them, along with the Knights of the Inferno. LaBerta, a longtime volunteer firefighter in Union Beach, N.J., and a former U.S. Naval reservist, founded the motorcycle club in 2008 as a charity for families of 9/11 victims and ailing survivors from Ground Zero. It now has chapters across the U.S., Canada, and parts of Europe.
LaBerta was able to order the $290 kits through the club’s partnership with Rothco, a major wholesaler of military, tactical, and outdoor gear.
“Robert contacted me and asked about sending some equipment over,” Drew said. “Of course, we said yes. That donation probably went out within 48 hours of when he dropped it off.”
He said seven massive shipments have left the department to date and he expects up to two more, with transport costs covered by the shipper, nonprofits, and private donations. The gear is hauled to an airfield and flown to firefighters in Poland, who truck it to the Ukrainian border. From there, it is dispersed to first responders in battered cities and other hot zones.
“It takes approximately two weeks to reach the front lines,” Drew said. “We’ve seen pictures of first responders using and wearing the gear. We know it’s not just sitting in a warehouse.”
LaBerta said he’s grateful to the Clifton department for including the IBEW and motorcycle club donations in one of the early shipments. He knows firsthand how important the trauma kits are, having been forced to improvise in an emergency two years ago.
“We were doing a ride and one of our guys had an accident,” he said. “We didn’t have that kit with us. We patched him up using a belt as a tourniquet and I tore up my sweatshirts to create bandages.”
While their quick thinking got the job done, medics in Ukraine are scrambling to treat multiple injuries at once in nightmarish conditions with limited supplies.
“These kits can be the difference between life and death,” LaBerta said. “We want to encourage any other IBEW locals to consider them if they’re looking for a way to help the people of Ukraine.”
Has your IBEW local helped provide support or aid to Ukraine? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for a full description of the Rothco military trauma backpacks.