When Brian Schwartz ’03 M’08 brought a group of his students from northern Vermont to Africa to help at an orphanage and a school, the educator decided to stop by a fire department, too.
A volunteer firefighter in Waterbury, Vt., Brian wanted to check out what fire operations are like in Iringa, Tanzania. He found a crew of only 27 firefighters supporting a city of 200,000 people; the firefighters share only four sets of fire gear and one pair of fire boots. The department owned no fire gloves or hoods to protect themselves from heat and flames.
“When I met with the firefighters in Tanzania I immediately started to empathize and relate to their struggles,” said Brian, who planned the 2018 student trip as part of his role as a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) teacher at the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park, Vt., a position he’s held for 10 years. “Imagine being a teacher and standing back when a child needs your guidance, imagine being a doctor and not having the medicine to heal. Iringa’s ability to fight fire will be changed from a department that works toward prevention to a department that also can rescue victims, fight fire and save lives.”
Since that initial visit, the technology education undergraduate, who also has a master’s in graphic design from SUNY Oswego, has collected more than $450,000 in out-of-service gear from the United States—mostly Vermont—for firefighters in Iringa and the surrounding region. Brian will return to Iringa in July to deliver both the gear—150 full sets of fire gear and 35 air packs —and to provide training in fire suppression, search and rescue, and survival for the firefighters.
According to Brian, the inner city has hydrants and running water but the outer city and villages do not; wells and pumps provide water access in rural areas.
“Training these firefighters in tactics and practices is paramount to their success,” said Brian, who said he was drawn to both firefighting and teaching out of a “sense of duty to help others.”
Brian has “gone up and down Vermont” to collect the gear, which would otherwise be sent to the dump, he said. At a certain age, gear is required to be taken out of commission in the U.S., but can still retain useful life. Vermont departments were happy to pitch in their gear.
“Many of the departments in Vermont are small and rural and don’t have much money, but what we lack in funds we dominate in effort,” Brian said.
And his students have stepped up, too, with an outpouring of support from student groups like Skills USA, Future Business Leaders of America, sports teams and the National Honor Society. Each have held fundraisers and collection efforts to benefit the firefighters, Brian said.
“If I can instill a sense of duty, perseverance and effort for change in a few students through this endeavor, then I feel that’s a huge win,” he said.