NY volunteer fire company donates ambulance to Belize

The ambulance is part of a broader effort to start an EMS system in San Pedro

By Joan Mcdonough
Niagara Gazette

LEWISTON, N.Y. — Just in time for the season of giving, Upper Mountain Volunteer Fire Co. has announced it will be donating an ambulance to the town of San Pedro, Belize. 

Upper Mountain's 1992 Ford E450, Type III ambulance was retired earlier this year after the purchase of a new ambulance. This will be San Pedro's very first ambulance – a big leap forward for the community.

Upper Mountain President Greg Sitek said a former member reached out to ask what the fire company had in store for the retired vehicle. He then connected the fire company with Dominick Walenczak, an EMT with Twin City Ambulance and a procurement officer helping to connect San Pedro with medical supplies. Walenczak said he started visiting Belize when his parents from Amherst began living there part-time. He became involved with the health system down there and works to help grow the town's EMS program from right here in Western New York. 

Alex Parmelee is the man leading the charge to improve public health services in this small Central American country. He started volunteering and visiting Belize 10 years ago as a medical school student, said the 48-year-old Colorado native. He has since finished his MD and was recently asked by Belize's Ministry of Health to start an EMS program in San Pedro with a 24-hour emergency room as the operations manager for San Pedro's emergency services.

The plan, according to Parmelee, is to bring this ambulance and another donated ambulance from Houston – both filled with medical supplies – down to Belize to help reform the county's "underfunded" public services. He said they'll be carrying much-needed modern defibrillators and an ultrasound machine, among other things. 

"One of their biggest complaints of things they don't have is medical care," Parmelee said. He described their national healthcare as being "very basic" covering little more than immunization and minor surgeries such as sutures. Many citizens of San Pedro currently take taxis, private vehicles or bicycles to get medical care; some even walk. The town has also been utilizing a pickup truck with a box in the back to transport sick or injured individuals, but Parmelee said this method isn't exactly ideal as it eliminates all privacy and exposes patients to the elements.

"They're going to be baffled when I come back and they actually see an ambulance," he said. 

During an informal tour of the ambulance, Parmelee, who has 25 years of EMS experience, talked about the vehicle with obvious excitement. 

"These are things you can't build in Central America," he said. 

He described various attributes and features as well as its worth, which he estimated to be close to $20,000 before the addition of all of the donated supplies that will go inside. 

Walenczak and Parmelee will both work to train San Pedro locals – the former from WNY and the latter on site in Belize – in the hopes of creating "a sustainable public health services system."

"It's about caring and giving back and it's limits know no borders," said former Chief John Malinchock who was at the station for the presentation of the ambulance. 


©2015 the Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.)

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