Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

On Mission to Ecuador, Nicaragua; Putnam County EMT Travels There to Teach Firefighters

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

On Mission to Ecuador, Nicaragua; Putnam County EMT Travels There to Teach Firefighters

Article excerpt

Byline: Sandy Strickland

Jason Matchett read a story on the Internet about firefighters in a Nicaraguan village receiving donated equipment from the United States. There was just one problem - a crucial one. They didn't know how to use it.

Matchett didn't speak Spanish. He had never been out of the country. But the emergency medical technician knew about training firefighters. And he had the desire to share his expertise and the backing of his fire department.

So in 2011, the Interlachen resident spent three months training firefighters in Nicaragua. In 2012, he spent two months in Ecuador doing the same. This year, he might go on a similar assignment to Nepal. In 2015, he plans to return to Ecuador and Nicaragua.

The 35-year-old volunteers up to 40 hours a week for the Hollister Fire Department, which is halfway between Palatka and Interlachen in Putnam County. When not volunteering, he works in his family's propane gas business. Matchett, who's been in volunteer fire service for 15 years, said the experiences in other countries filled him with a sense of renewal and pride.

"It motivated me," he said. "It reminded me that I went into this field to make a difference."

Hollister Fire Chief Robert Davenport said Matchett was an ideal candidate for the mission because he's single without children.

"He has no other interest than fire service," said Davenport, adding that it consumes Matchett's spare time.

While in high school, Matchett took EMT classes at night. At 17, he got his license, prompting then-Gov. Lawton Chiles to send him a letter recognizing him as the youngest to do so in the state, Davenport said.

Matchett's trip was funded by Base Camp International, a Canadian organization that provides assistance to Third World countries. Nicaragua, which is in Central America, had "next to nothing" in the way of equipment or training, Matchett said. Fire hydrants are rusting and tilting over. The water supply system is antiquated, and there are no building codes.

"In Nicaragua, they had never seen CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation]," he said.

When they went on a call in the villages, they drove the injured to the hospital in a pickup truck. Matchett conducted extensive CPR sessions. When the firefighters learned CPR, the doctors were very excited and even came out to watch the presentations, he said.

His trip to Ecuador last July and August was prompted by the number of fatalities in multistory buildings because firefighters lacked tactical training and ladder trucks. The mountainous terrain also posed a challenge in fighting wildfires.

Again, he saw another Internet story about the need. In Florida, he said, there's been a focus on training firefighters to rescue downed or trapped colleagues through a program called "Everyone Goes Home. …

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