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Addison Fire District ambulance is heading to Ukrainian front lines — with special messages

The toughest days for a 15-year-old Addison Fire Protection District ambulance may actually be ahead of it.

If all goes as planned early next month, the vehicle will be headed to Ukraine to help medical workers there care for those wounded in Russia’s ongoing invasion.

“It’s served us well, and I hope it continues to do the same in Ukraine,” said Scott Walker, the fire district’s chief.

The district’s three-member board is expected to retire the ambulance at its Aug. 3 meeting and donate it to the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America, which will then ship it to Ukraine along with several other donated ambulances.

However, before it’s shipped, the ambulance will be on display at the village’s Rock ‘n Wheels car show Aug. 4, when visitors can write greetings and well wishes on it to those who will receive the vehicle in Ukraine.

“That started with one of the first ambulances that was donated to us by a health system in Tennessee,” said Chris Manson, who is spearheading the ambulance donation program to Ukraine and is vice president of government affairs for Peoria-based OSF Healthcare. “That ambulance was really special to those workers in Tennessee, and when it arrived in Ukraine, it was really pretty emotional for those people there to read and learn what had been written on it.”

Walker said the Addison ambulance has been stripped of the district’s decals and other insignia. Children from a summer day camp have already begun writing messages on it, he added.

“I had heard that Naperville and another department downstate in El Paso had donated ambulances and immediately thought it was something we should do,” Walker said. “I spoke with our board and they told me to look into the process, so they’re all in favor.”

Walker said the ambulance is about three years past its life expectancy and, with more than 122,000 miles on it, likely would have a resale or trade-in value of about $8,000. A new, custom-made ambulance runs about $350,000 these days, he noted.

It likely would have been donated to emergency workers in Central or South America as it was, Walker said.

The ambulance donated last month by Naperville is already on its way to Ukraine.

“We loaded it up with some extra gear we couldn’t use anymore and some other items like old uniforms and I believe it’s on its way through customs now,” said Naperville Fire Department Division Chief John Sergeant. “It’s got some serviceable life still in it, just not as a front line unit for us anymore.”

Manson has wrangled about 20 donated ambulances since he first approached leaders at his hospital group in March about the idea.

“I was watching the news on TV with my daughter and something came on about the war in Ukraine and we thought about something we wished we could do,” he recalled.

Not knowing exactly how to get the ball rolling, Manson called the Ukrainian consulate to see if they had any interest.

“I got a call back that night and the answer was, ‘Yes.'”

Ukrainian officials put him touch with officials at the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America who told him if he gets an ambulance, they’ll fill it with medical supplies. Not long afterwards, the ambulance was on its way on a 747 to Ukraine and Manson was riding alongside it to Kyiv.

“I didn’t have any expectations about what would happen when this started, but I’ve fallen into this role as the Ukrainian ambulance guy,” Manson said, “In reality, we’ve pretty much worked out all the kinks and gotten all the paperwork issues ironed out on both sides, so it’s pretty easy.”

The donated ambulances also come with “cheat sheets” translated into Ukrainian to help the medical workers understand how things work in the vehicles they might not normally be accustomed to. That can include electrical items because of voltage differences between the US and Ukraine.

Manson said he doesn’t have to do much solicitation for the donated ambulances nowadays either because fire departments across the country have heard from other agencies or news reports about the program.

Manson is continuing to organize ambulance donations. Any agency looking to donate an ambulance should contact him at [email protected]

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