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October 23, 2010
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Vail Valley locals send ambulance to Honduras

VAIL, Colorado - You gotta love it when the good guy network works.

A local Peace Corps volunteer needed an ambulance in Honduras, so of course local Rotarians had a ball finding one and shipping it to Central America.

Reggie O'Brien is the Rotarian who joined the Peace Corps about 18 months ago. She's serving in Honduras.

They need everything in Honduras, including an ambulance. She sent word to local Rotarians asking that if they happen to have an extra ambulance lying around, outfitted with some life-saving ambulance stuff, she would really like to have it for her village.

It's not clear what day Reggie made her request, but it turned out to be her lucky day.

Yes, the Eagle County Ambulance District had just such a vehicle. And yes, she could have it.

And while people illegally sneak from Honduras from the United States all the time, an ambulance is a little more problematic.

War is hell most of the time, but sometimes war is just heck. Anyway, Dan Smith is on the ECAD board and a military veteran. He has seen with his own eyes members of the military transport massive stuff for long distances, some of which the Pentagon might not have known about.

"The world has changed," Smith said.

Once upon a time, for a case of Jim Beam you could get your ambulance flown on a C-130 transport to Honduras, he said. Not that he would have any personal experience with that sort of thing.

It turns out we have our own Pentagon people here in the Valley. Buddy Sims retired from the U.S. Air Force after a long and illustrious career. He now helps run the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

Sims procured the Pentagon limestone, the one on display in Freedom Park, the one knocked loose when terrorists attacked the Pentagon on 9/11.

Sims fired off more than 100 emails, looking for official modes of transportation to transport a gently used ambulance from the U.S. to Honduras. Turns out there is one.

The Navy has a ship, the Swift, reputed to be the fastest ship on the Seven Seas. It's headed to Honduras to resupply small naval bases along the way. They haul things like ambulances on a space-available basis. As luck would have it, they have space available on their next trip, leaving Jacksonville, Fla., Wednesday.

So Smith goes back to the local Rotary Club and explains the ever-improving situation: They have an ambulance that can go to Reggie in Honduras. It has to get from the Vail Valley to Jacksonville, Fla., by Oct. 27, and it's too big to transport by applying Jedi mind powers.

Who, Smith asked, would be willing to drive the ambulance to Jacksonville?

Luc Pols, a former Dutch Marine, decided that it sounded like a road trip and he volunteered. And so, before you can say, "I know a guy who knows a guy ..." the ambulance will be on its way.

In Honduras, they'll use it to transport people to hospitals and medical care, pretty much the same things they're used for in the U.S.

"There are few vehicles in my community (Cane, Honduras) and the ambulance will serve three communities, each having a population of 5,000 to 6,000," O'Brien wrote in an e-mail from Honduras.

Her village's mayor, Jose Rosario Tejeda of Cane, is securing funds for a maternal child health center. Children are born in the neighboring capital city of La Paz and without transportation for critical cases, access to health care is almost impossible, she wrote.

"She approached us, asking where she could get an ambulance," said ECAD's Fred Morrison. He didn't have to look much further than his office window.

"We had one ready to trade in," Morrison said.

When an ambulance reaches around 150,000 miles, it starts to devour expensive maintenance, Smith said. Crunching the numbers, ECAD found they're better off replacing them. The local ambulances are built on a Ford E-350 chassis by Lifeline Emergency Vehicles.

A used ambulance is worth almost nothing as a trade-in, Morrison said.

"They have a very low trade-in value," Morrison said. "You get $2,500 for an ambulance that cost you $150,000."

Local Rotarians are up to their Four-Way Test in this. O'Brien is a Rotarian, as is Morrison. Dan Smith, who helped coordinate all this, is a Rotarian. If Buddy Sims isn't he should be. Rotarian Luc Pols is driving the ambulance to Jacksonville, Fla. Pols had to spend a few hours at the wheel, learning enough about handling an ambulance to make the insurance company happy.

For a Swift ship, the journey seems slow. The ship is supposed to leave Wednesday, and the ambulance will be delivered in March. A nearby U.S. Army unit will provide training.

O'Brien's Peace Corps project is actually business and information technology. But, hey ... you do everything you can. Cane needed an ambulance and O'Brien knows a guy who knows a guy.

Before they could say, "Now, what was the third part of that Four-Way Test?" the deal was done.


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The VailDaily Updated Oct 24, 2010 12:48AM Published Oct 23, 2010 05:28PM Copyright 2010 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.