How, for the world to see, did a jacket printed with the word EDMONTON get on the back of a firefighter in Ukraine dealing with giant fuel tanks set ablaze by Russian missiles?
The answer has been taking shape since 2012. The answer is Kevin Royle and his colleagues.
“When I saw that image on CNN of the firefighter in Lviv wearing the turnout coat with EDMONTON on it, I was happy to see donated equipment being used for what it was intended for—keeping firefighters safe, protecting property, protecting the environment,” said Royle.
“I was disheartened to see it being used in a war.”
Firefighter Aid Ukraine
Royle, a Fire Investigator with nearly a decade of experience with Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, is the founder and project director of Firefighter Aid Ukraine. The non-profit’s idea is simple: when fire departments decommission gear and equipment, where else could it still be used?
For Royle, the answer has been Ukraine. He visited there in 2012 with Northern Alberta Rotary District 5370.
“I saw first-hand some of the gear and equipment challenges firefighters there face,” said Royle, who returned home from his eye-opening trip with a world-changing idea.
“When I came back, we were going through a gear swap here,” he said. “So I went to the Chief at the time and asked if we could send stuff to Ukraine, drafted up a business plan, and the rest is history.”
And, now, the history is making a bit of news history.
CNN comes calling
On Monday, March 28, Royle was a guest on CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight. Lemon, who is anchoring and reporting from Lviv, Ukraine, told Royle he “saw firsthand the good that your equipment does.”
Royle used the interview to underline the need for better equipment.
“You saw them all running in there and had the jackets and helmets and stuff, but I didn’t see a single [self-contained] breathing apparatus on one of those firefighters, so, they do need more help, that’s for sure,” Royle said.
Army of volunteers
Firefighter Aid Ukraine’s first shipping container of bunker gear, hospital supplies and other life saving equipment was delivered to Ukraine in 2016. Royle and team went to hand out the material in person and to train Ukrainian firefighters on using it. A second shipment was sent in 2019.
On March 10 of this year, Royle, along with fellow firefighter Christopher Perka and Vitaliy Milentyev of the Alberta Ukraine Chamber of Commerce, went to Poland with a planeload of equipment. The Russian invasion had underlined the need for a quick response.
“We did what normally takes over a year in one week,” said Royle. “We couldn’t have done it without help from the community—an army of volunteers, retired and active firefighters, members of the local Ukrainian community and other Edmontonians.”
“We do our own fundraising and have received gift-in-kind donations for everything from craning services from Myshak [Crane & Rigging] here in Edmonton, shipping containers from CN and Uncle Wiener’s to boxes from Home Depot.”
That gear was to be divided up and to be delivered to the Ukrainian cities of Ivano-Frankivsk, Kyiv, Lviv, Cherkasy and Odessa.
Royle said he has received reports the equipment bound for Lviv got to Lviv, explaining the sudden and unexpected (if viewers didn’t know about Firefighter Aid Ukraine’s decade-long commitment) appearance of the EDMONTON jacket.
The story’s authenticity was even fact-checked.
CNN’s Lemon called Royle “a good man” and thanked him for everything he does in Edmonton in his daily life “and everything you’ve done for the firefighters of Ukraine and for the world.”
For Edmonton Fire Rescue Services Chief Joe Zatylny, the international media coverage for the Ukraine relief initiative underlined the commitment of the women and men in uniform.
“Seeing EDMONTON on that jacket, to me, was an incredible reminder that all firefighters, no matter where in the world, will always help those in need,” said Zatylny.
“The commitment and service from the outstanding organizers and volunteers of Firefighter Aid Ukraine is a perfect example of this. Our thoughts and safe wishes continue to be with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine as they continue to help and to save their communities.”
Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows a screenshot from a CNN broadcast on March 26, 2022. If you want to volunteer with Firefighter Aid Ukraine, here’s where to sign up.