On March 15, the Santa Monica Fire Department officially donated two decommissioned fire engines, one command vehicle, and other equipment and gear that has reached its lifecycle based on National Fire Protection Association standards. SMFD Training Division Chief James Altman shares more about the donation and the equipment’s voyage to Mazatlán, Mexico, a City of Santa Monica Sister City in this Q&A.

How did the donation come about?

The City of Santa Monica and the City of Mazatlán, Mexico have been sister cities for quite some time, in fact the street that runs between City Hall and the Public Safety Facility was named after Mazatlán. Avenida Mazatlán runs North and South from Civic Center Dr. to Fujinomiya Douri, which is another of our Sister Cities.

Because of this, we have always thought about our Sister Cities when we have donations such as this. In 2019, our department placed into service, several new Fire Engines, placing those front-line engines into reserve status. This usually means that the older reserve apparatus gets moved to auction. Because of the age of the reserve apparatus that would be otherwise sent to auction, there was little monetary value. In addition, we knew Mazatlán was opening a new fire station in a neighborhood that needed fire protection services. These new engines would fit just perfect, so we started the conversation with the Mazatlán Fire leadership team. They made several trips out to Santa Monica, and we began the process to have our Council approve the donation and move forward with the details.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans were halted for over a year because of the many travel restrictions that were in place in both countries. We are proud, however, to know that our brothers and sisters in Mazatlán, Mexico, will now receive their much-needed fire engines as well as various firefighting tools and equipment along with several firefighting ensembles, so that they can serve their residents and visitors well.

Tell us about how Mazatlan will use the equipment.

Due to the timing and opening of a new fire station, they will place a fire engine into service in an area that never had a fire station. In addition to the new fire station receiving a fire engine, the other fire engine and command vehicle will be used to replace older aging fire apparatus.

Is it common for fire departments to donate decommissioned equipment?

It is common to donate used equipment and fire apparatus, but it has become much stricter due to firm regulations and guidelines. Most fire equipment, as well as fire apparatus have service lives. This regulation is in service to protect firefighter safety. Although other countries try and mimic our regulations here in the United States, sometimes it is tough for them to keep up financially, and these types of donations help them continue to serve their communities.

If the equipment still runs, why not keep using it?

As stated, the National Fire Protection Association has certain guidelines to protect firefighters. In these guidelines, certain equipment, including fire apparatus have service lives. Because this equipment was well beyond its service life, we either send it to auction, where at times fire academies will buy used apparatus, fire apparatus collectors will make the purchase, as well, as the movie industry.

The bottom line is we place the apparatus out-of-service due to lack of reliability and more so to preserve community and firefighter safety.

Submitted by James Altman, Division Chief