A request from a niece had Gladys Frydendall on a goodwill mission when she moved to Mankato from Richland, Wash., five years ago.
Both her niece and a nephew are volunteer firefighters in the Paraguay city of Fernando de la Mora. Her niece, Mirian Centurion, told her she had fellow firefighters who could use some equipment, then asked Frydendall if she could help.
“I told her I just moved to Mankato and I didn’t know many people yet,” Frydendall said.
That’s changed. Her network of friends has grown through her job teaching English as a second language and a variety of volunteer work. She met one new friend, Fire Cmdr. Jeff Bengtson, in May while she and others were being honored for their work as ESL teachers. There was a lunch that day at Lincoln Community Center, and Frydendall saw a chance to join Bengtson at his table.
“She told me her niece was a firefighter in Paraguay,” Bengtson said. “I have an interest in how other firefighters do their job, so I was asking her questions. She described how the firefighters there have to buy there own equipment because the communities don’t have much money to spend on gear.”
When Frydendall asked if Bengtson knew how she could find fire departments willing to donate used equipment, he said he might be able to help. Bengtson warned her it could take time to get all the approvals needed, but she told him not to worry because she’s a patient person.
The last strip of red tape was broken with a vote from the Mankato City Council Monday. Frydendall learned Wednesday that five sets of used fire gear — including coats, pants and boots — and three used helmets were ready to be shipped to Fernando de la Mora. A local business, which wants to remain anonymous, was also recruited by Bengtson to cover the cost of shipping the gear south.
“I was so excited when they gave me the good news,” Frydendall said. “It’s a big deal for my niece and nephew. They’re going to be very happy.
“Even for me it’s a big deal because I was the facilitator.”
National Fire Protection Association Standards call for replacing fire gear every 10 years. A new set of gear costs about $1,600, so the Mankato Department of Public Safety isn’t always able to replace its gear that often, Bengtson said. But the Fire Department does try to replace several outfits every one or two years, so there could be more equipment sent to Paraguay in the future.
He will be following up with firefighters in Fernando de la Mora to make sure their is a use for the equipment.
“I hope to build a relationship with the firefighters down there,” Bengtson said. “I hope this helps keep them safe.”
“This is a great way to put this gear to use,” Public Safety Director Todd Miller added. “Plus, it helps us to build relationships with our citizens by finding a solution that can benefit everyone.”