West Valley City firefighters visit Ukraine to provide aid and training
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — The war in Ukraine might be far away from our homes in Utah, but for two local firefighters, it’s so much more.
“You feel like you are so far away, but when you get there, you realize what these people are going through,” said Marcie Mehl.
Brandon Howard and Marcie Mehl are firefighter paramedics with the West Valley City fire department. They knew they had skills that could help over there.
Jeff Petersen, who lives in Lehi, gave them that chance when he was putting together a humanitarian mission to Ukraine.
Petersen was talking to his neighbor, Rick Howard, who just happened to be a paramedic trainer and the father of Brandon.
One call turned into several, which turned into the two firefighter paramedics, as well as Rick, joining the mission.
“It’s normal everyday people that are stepping up, and it brings a bright spot to humanity in the middle of so much darkness,” said Petersen.
They traveled by train and other vehicles in Ukraine. At one point, the Utahns received a police escort because they were in an active war zone.
“At night, we would hear air raid sirens. We would hear loud noises. We weren’t sure what they were. They even gave us a little link on an app where we could see kind of what’s going on, so it gave us some kind of reassurance of that we weren’t totally in the dark,” recalled Brandon, a captain of the West Valley City fire department.
They worked with a Ukrainian group known as the White Angels, who help in areas many others won’t go to.
The paramedics taught the Ukrainian group first-responder-type medical techniques and gave them supplies.
“They were helping with community bombings,” Mehl said. “They would go respond to neighbors and people that they know rather than just the military. It made it really personal.”
Sometimes things were hectic, but their work to help train only became as crucial as ever.
“Once we got going, we kind of just fell right into place because it was the same training that we put on for our guys,” Brandon recalled.
The friendships they made, and the emotions they felt from locals fighting for their country, moved them.
“Politics aside, it really is heartbreaking to see the people over there and to know so many of them don’t have electricity, and you wonder how they’re going to get through the winter,” Mehl expressed.
The team stayed for about a week before returning to Utah just a few days ago.
“If I had the opportunity and things worked out, I would want to go again and see my new friends,” Brandon said.
As unique as Christmas always is with family at home, you can’t blame them for thinking of their friends and family far away.
“I keep in touch with them. We text back and forth now. We ask questions. We send pictures,” Brandon said.
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