Mass. chief spends time in Ukraine training locals on donated fire trucks
Salem fire Chief Alan Dionne returned from Ukraine and will go back with another fire engine
By Dustin Luca
The Salem News
SALEM, Mass. — Salem fire Chief Alan Dionne recently returned from Ukraine, where he had the opportunity to deliver a fire truck donated by Beverly to replace Ukrainian vehicles destroyed in the ongoing war with Russia.
But he didn’t just drive it, and Salem’s assistance to the area didn’t end with Dionne’s return, according to Christopher Manson, founder of U.S. Ambulances for Ukraine. Launched in early 2022, the organization routinely channels decommissioned and surplus vehicles and emergency responder gear donated across the U.S. to live out their final days in the war-torn country.
Though Dionne is back home, Salem will soon return to Ukraine with another decommissioned Salem fire engine and two surplus SUVs stuffed full of gear and sent to the front lines.
Standing outside the Lafayette Street fire headquarters last week, Dionne looked over Salem’s newest piece of hardware: Engine 2.
“We ordered it two years ago. Thanks to COVID, it should’ve taken 12 to 14 months, not two years,” Dionne said, with an engine concealed behind the newest arrival. “That’ll be replacing a 17-year-old Engine 1, which will be moved into a reserve status and designated as Engine 6.
“Through the kindness and generosity of the city of Salem and City Council, we’re donating that truck to Ukraine,” Dionne said. “We also have two surplus SUVs we’re going to decommission.”
If you think you’ve heard this story before, you aren’t wrong. In February, the Beverly City Council declared what was once Beverly’s Engine 1 a donation to Ukraine, after it became a reserve truck and was declared surplus. It was signed by folks throughout the Garden City with words of encouragement and support before being shipped to Baltimore and put on a ship headed for Ukraine.
That’s where Dionne’s involvement began, he explained.
“I was at a regional union meeting and heard Beverly was donating a pump, and that they were looking for equipment to give to an organization, U.S. Ambulances for Ukraine,” Dionne said. “We collected everything here we didn’t get rid of. ... It’s all well within its useful life, but because of the standards in the United States, we couldn’t use the equipment.”
Dionne traveled to Ukraine on behalf of the Beverly Fire Department and spent seven days there in May. He drove the Beverly engine as part of a convoy making deliveries of fire trucks, ambulances and SUVs through a 1,200-mile journey stopping in Lviv, Rivne, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Odesa, and Tulcea. When delivering the Beverly truck, due to his familiarity with the equipment, Dionne also trained local officials there on its use.
There were similarities between America and Ukraine, Dionne said.
“When the kids came over to see the truck and ambulances, it was just like kids coming to our stations,” he said. “They were beaming.”
But there were also several indicators of the greater conflict that Dionne couldn’t help but see.
“We saw an ambulance that we delivered — not on this last mission, but the one before — and we saw it out of commission. It had been hit,” Dionne said. “It happens all the time. They shoot at hospitals, at ambulances... they shoot at pizza places.”
That’s not just why ambulances are being donated to Ukraine, but also part of how SUVs end up there as well. Where ambulances may be like a beacon in the middle of a war zone and draw enemy fire, a civilian SUV fleeing a firefight likely has an injured person inside, making use of the vehicle’s appearance as less conspicuous emergency transport.
To date, U.S. Ambulances for Ukraine has delivered 38 ambulances, six fire trucks and several SUVs.
“Of the eight shipments we’ve done so far, three have gone via aircraft. The remaining were all rolled on and off a ship,” Manson said. “They go out of the East Coast to Germany. From there, they go to a staging location in Poland, and from there they cross the border into Ukraine.”
Salem is playing a major part in that work, Manson said — one that’s soon to be felt warmly abroad.
“Right now, (the Beverly) fire engine is east of Kharkiv. I’ve got an idea of where the Salem engine is going, and where the two SUVs are going, but we’re waiting to finalize that,” Manson said. “It was nice to have Salem’s chief with us on this last trip. Obviously, his vehicle wasn’t part of the last shipment, but he was there representing the area as the Beverly vehicle went out.”
Now, Beverly’s reserve engine is in service once again, helping a war-scarred nation fight off its intruders.
“These vehicles, they’re basically given a chance to retire in a more glorious and honorable way,” Manson said. “Rather than sitting somewhere rusted out, they’re going to be put to use until they die.”