Firefighters, friends ready for return relief trip to Puerto Rico
Firefighter William Pagan is making his second trip with colleagues and friends to Puerto Rico to work with local firefighters and distribute donated supplies
By Jill Harmacinski
LAWRENCE, Mass. — Four months after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island of Puerto Rico, recovery and restoration efforts appear largely focused on tourist areas.
Meanwhile, Lawrence firefighter William Pagan said his aunt, who lives in Utuado, a mountainous central part of the island, still has no electricity.
"My aunt has been told it could be two to three years before she gets electricity," Pagan said.
Tuesday night Pagan was set to make another trip to Puerto Rico, an American territory which was home to 3.5 million people prior to Hurricane Maria in September.
Tens of thousands have left the island, evacuating state-side where they could find work and new homes.
But Pagan, bolstered by fellow firefighters and friends, is now making his second trip to Puerto Rico to work with local firefighters and to distribute donated supplies.
The first trip was in November with the volunteers returning for Thanksgiving weekend to be with their families.
Now Pagan and the group will distribute 22 pallets of donated water, food, batteries, flashlights and clothing they shipped to the island in December. The donations were collected at firehouses and stored in donated mill warehouse space at 15 Union St.
Firefighters then raised $7,500 to have the items shipped in a large container to Puerto Rico, which took five weeks.
The container was shipped to Jayuya, a rugged mountainous town in the center of Puerto Rico. Lawrence firefighters stayed at the Jayuya Fire Department during their November trip and will have a strong presence their again on this trip.
"I will staying there and with my family," Pagan said.
He is being joined on this trip by his sister Yahaira Rosa, family friend Lisi Camacho, Carlos Diaz, his brother-in-law, and fellow Lawrence firefighters Jamiel Ortiz, Luis Nova and Ignacio Rodriguez.
Pagan is flying out first and they are all following him shortly afterwards. Jet Blue airlines is flying them to and from the island as part of that company's humanitarian effort for Puerto Rico, he said.
He has also been following David Begnaud, a journalist who has been reporting on the devastation and problems in Puerto Rico closely.
"There are still people living in tents and huts," said Pagan, referring to Begnaud's reports. "There has not been a lot of progress on getting people back on track. The focus is more on tourism ... They don't show the center of the island and what's being done which is basically nothing."
Pagan will spend two weeks in Puerto Rico on this trip. The city will continue paying his firefighter's salary while he is away.
"Which is a good feeling," he said.
While there is much work ahead of them, Pagan said he is excited to return to Puerto Rico to work with local firefighters and help people.
"It's good feeling and it's going to be even better when you hand something to someone who needs it," he said.
He praised the many individual residents, fellow firefighters, students and companies such as Jet Blue and Home Depot who have helped with the local recovery effort.
Pagan and fellow firefighter Juan "Manny" Gonzalez launched the "Firefighters United for Puerto Rico" fund through TD Bank branches shortly after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September.
He noted the fund remains open.
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