'Why not go where we're most needed?': East County firefighters headed to Ukraine

'Why not go where we're most needed?': East County firefighters headed to Ukraine
Posted at 5:54 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 21:26:22-05

SPRING VALLEY, Calif. (KGTV) - Several East County firefighters are preparing to head into the war zone in Ukraine for a first-of-its-kind mission.

When Jerry Padilla saw the images of the deadly bombing of the maternity and children’s hospital in Ukraine and video of fire crews searching in the rubble, it clinched his decision.

“It’s devastating just in general. However, being a parent myself, my heart just sank,” said Padilla.

Padilla, a firefighter/paramedic with San Miguel Fire & Rescue for nearly five years, is joining a mission set up by Eric Hille, a fire engineer in the same department.

The two head US/MX Firefighters United, a cross-border nonprofit that helps with gear and training for Mexican fire departments.

Hille managed to get in contact with Ukrainian officials and received initial approval for a first-of-its-kind, 10-man deployment, to spend 14 days in the war zone embedded with local fire crews, helping fight fires and assisting with search and rescue efforts.

“When you see the efforts that they’re having to with minimal equipment, and with the amount of equipment we have and can bring over … No other reason than to be there for the brotherhood of the fire service and to help people, which is what we do,” said Padilla.

Hille put the call out for volunteers a few days ago and has received interest from dozens of firefighters, from Indiana to Mexico to Germany.

Hille and Padilla will use their vacation days and shift trades to get the time off and plan to leave around April 1. They know their mission will be fraught with risk.

“A fire is burning. Everybody is running out, and we’re running in. It’s what we do anyways. Why not go where we're most needed?” said Padilla.

Padilla says his wife is worried but supportive of his mission.

The firefighters had put out a call for help with fundraising for supplies and gear.