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Local fire companies collect for Sierra Leone

Local fire companies collect for Sierra Leone

TINICUM — The heap of plastic bags in the back of the blue pick-up truck jostled a bit as the firefighters drove their load destined for Sierra Leone via the Collingdale and Tinicum fire companies and First Baptist Church in Collingdale.  (Photo: Tinicum firefighters Stynor Carter, left, and Alhaji Saccoh display the equipment that they are donating to Sierra Leone at the Collingdale 1 fire house. (Times Staff/ROBERT J. GURECKI))

“It’s an awesome feeling,” said 29-year-old Alhaji Saccoh, Collingdale Fire Co. No. 1 firefighter and Sierra Leone native. “This is going to be an ongoing effort and a long-term partnership for the Sierra Leone Fire Department.”

Collingdale’s chief, Joe Locke, offered his support for the collection of fire gear for the African firefighters.

“It’s good because we’re helping less fortunate outside our country who can’t afford this,” he said.

Saccoh was so excited Saturday he woke up energized very early.

The Aldan resident left the West African country 16 years ago because of the internal strife.

“Growing up there, it was during the civil war,” he said. “It was in really, really bad conditions. (There was) a lot of fighting, the country was poor, the government was very, very ineffective.”

Saccoh lived in Yeadon for a while and then moved to the other end of Delaware County, where he volunteered for the Marcus Hook Fire Company.

“It’s my way to serve the community in which I live,” he said. “It’s unique. Most people get scared … I see that as a moral obligation to do something for my community.

For two years, he’s been volunteering with the Collingdale fire company and is learning to drive the truck in between spending time with his wife and their 2½-year-old daughter, working at Devereaux at night and studying economic development at the University of Pennsylvania during the day.

Last June, Saccoh returned for a visit to his country and found the poverty remained, including among the firefighting community in Freetown.

“The fire department is very, very poor,” he said. “The guys over there are sleeping on the floor. When they respond to calls, they go there in their clothes. They have no gear. They have nothing. They have nothing.”

When Saccoh returned to the United States, he was committed to talking to his chief to see how they could help.

Since November, members of the Collingdale and Tinicum fire departments have been sorting through their equipment to find outdated pieces in good shape.

On Saturday, the mound of bagged helmets, pants, coats, gloves and suspenders was taken to the First Baptist Church in Collingdale where it will be stored until later for shipment.

Saccoh is hopeful this effort will have transformative impact for the Freetown firefighters.

“It’s a place that it’s good to go back to the fire department and try to really bring pride into the work they do because people don’t respect them right now,” Saccoh said. “One, they don’t have the right gear to do the job correctly. (Secondly,) they can’t independently do any fundraising because people think they are ineffective.”

Saccoh said he hopes the Delaware County equipment will put these firefighters in a different perspective among their countrymen.

“I think that,” he said looking at the filled truck, “will change the entire culture.”

Firefighter equipment is being collected through June and is being coordinated through the Collingdale Fire Co. No. 1. Officials there can be reached at collingdale1.com or by calling 610-583-3040.

Kathleen Carey, Delaware County Daily Times

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