In the cold weather outside Sweetwater on Jan. 7, Alicia Balliet placed a sticker in memory of her late husband, Eric, on the back of an ambulance bound for Mexico.
The ambulance is the 19th donated from One World Medics and after a blessing in both English and Spanish would soon be driven to Arizona near the Mexico border by Fort Wayne firefighters Jerry Shultz and Bryan Peterson, who is also executive director of One World Medics.
“We’re here at Sweetwater because they’ve supported us with our fundraising efforts in the past,” Peterson said. “The whole Hispanic community and many other people in Fort Wayne have been behind us from the very beginning.”
Each and every ambulance carries the logo of Fire Station No. 6 and a sticker in memory of Eric Balliet, a fire department captain who died in 2017 during a training session.
“So you’ll see videos of these ambulances all over Latin America and every time you see the back of them you’ll see the sticker for Eric and you’ll see the sticker for Station 6,” Peterson said.
Peterson said it’s unfortunate that they can’t all see the faces of the people in Mexico when they receive an ambulance, which is also filled with walkers, firefighting foam, a hose and other donated items.
Peterson volunteered in Mexico as a high school student in San Diego. As a Fort Wayne firefighter he kept in touch with the agencies in Tijuana and his fellow firefighter, Shultz, became interested in his work there.
“He said, ‘I’d like to go and see what that’s like,’” Peterson said. “We went down there. We were in the last running ambulance they had. It broke down in the middle of the shift. So when we got back to Fort Wayne we decided to find one that they could use that would be dependable.”
They bought a retired Parkview Whitley ambulance at auction and got funds from the Fort Wayne community to refurbish and repaint it to donate it to Tijuana. Then they started getting calls from other agencies that had retired ambulances.
“We’ve gotten some great support from the Hispanic community in Fort Wayne,” Peterson said. “Whenever we need something they’re out raising funds.”
Fernando Zapari, a native of Mexico and a member of One World Medics, said in the past two years the group has sent ambulances to Honduras as well as Mexico and other places in Latin America. The latest ambulance will go to Cruz Ambar in the state of Sonora in northwest Mexico. The group also sends equipment that is no longer usable here but is something needed in other countries, which has included those in Africa.
“These units are like brand-new,” Zapari said. “So it means a lot.”