It began when Eusebio and Branco went on vacation to Boca Chica in 2012 to visit Eusebio’s father who had retired to the town and become a volunteer firefighter.
“During the trip we toured the firehouse and I noticed they needed a few things,” said Eusebio. “They didn’t have the proper breathing apparatuses, the fire trucks were in very bad shape, and they didn’t have any gloves and very few pairs of boots for the volunteers. Basically they didn’t have anything. They didn’t even have enough hose to connect to the fire truck. They were missing a ton of equipment. I knew we had some stuff lying around and thought I’d ask our guys and other departments to see if they could donate anything they were no longer using.”
He explained that he began to gather equipment from local departments including Hoboken, Jersey City, and North Hudson, as well as the Fire Research Center in Staten Island which had a lot of extra equipment. They stored the gear in Branco’s garage.
“I didn’t know how I was going to get it out there, I just knew I had to start helping and collecting everything,” said Eusebio.
Branco, through the Hoboken Rotary and Jersey City Rotary, helped organize a fundraiser later that year to help get a 20-foot shipping container filled with the collected equipment sent over.
“We went with 11 firemen and myself with the 20 foot container and we didn’t know what to expect,” said Branco. “That’s when the mayor at the time named July 18 Hoboken Firefighter Day.”
Three weeks ago during a City Council meeting Mayor Dawn Zimmer awarded the pair with a mayoral proclamation thanking them for their charitable work.
“To take something we have here that doesn’t have any use to us and take it to a new country and give it to someone who can actually use it is amazing.” –Joe Branco
In March 2016, Eusebio went back to visit his father. His dad asked him if he could organize another donation. “Of course, I said yes.”
“He didn’t last to see the start of it as he passed away in July of that year, but we went full steam ahead and helped with another donation that we just brought down in July of this year,” said Eusebio.
This time Eusebio and Branco expanded their search and were able to get even more equipment from as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Walter Cook, a firefighter out of Cincinnati, heard what we were doing and reached out and said he had a bunch of equipment,” said Branco. “He actually drove out on two trips with equipment and a fire truck.”
“They are so happy every time they see the truck on Facebook,” said Branco. “It gives them great pleasure to see their truck having a second life.”
This trip required more funds and a 40 foot container. CarePoint Health, the Rotary Clubs, and Westwood Pharmaceuticals helped chip in.
“It was an incredibly humbling trip,” said Branco. “To take something we have here that doesn’t have any use to us and take it to a new country and give it to someone who can actually use it is amazing. The look on their faces was incredible.”
During their most recent trip in July they met Dominican Republic Vice President Margarita Cedeño de Fernandez.
“While we were there, we got a call to meet with the vice president of the country at the presidential palace, which was completely unexpected,” said Branco. “She was so happy to meet us, and she was asking us about ourselves and the trip, which was definitely one of the highlights.”
“It was a bit overwhelming, but fun at the same time,” said Eusebio, whose mother joined him.
Eusebio mentioned another highlight of the trip: the Boca Chica firefighters renamed its second floor of their firehouse after his father.
Not finished yet
“We are actually collecting for another trip and hope to do another donation next July to a different part of the Dominican Republic, Barahona,” said Eusebio.
“We are hoping to fill another 40 foot container,” said Branco.
The pair went last week to Pittsburgh to get more donations and a fire truck.
“This has really been about so many people coming together,” said Branco. “It’s been such a huge group effort.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.