Donations of emergency services gear, vehicles and rescue equipment are a welcome sight to under-resourced departments around the world struggling to provide emergency care. However, despite the best intentions of the donors, there’s often a mismatch between what’s donated and the real needs of departments on the ground. GESA’s Advisory Council (AC) members, practitioner leaders from around the world with first-hand donation-recipient experience, are exploring this issue, its roots, and how we can make a real difference on the global Emergency Services donations pipeline. GESA and the AC are approaching this with the goal of making better matches and making it easier for donating departments and companies to get goods to communities in need, quickly.
Key observations from our Advisory Council
1 Who drives donations – the donor, or the department looking for gear?
Overall, Advisory Council members said that the donor typically drives donations. Donations are rarely driven by the specific needs of the recipient departments or agencies. Global North donors have goods they want to retire. And many have long-standing relationships with departments in the Global South. Goldy Rivas of Ecuador explained: ‘Every time Houston (our partner city) has gear they want to donate, they add it to a shipping container. When the container is full, they send it to us and we sort it out. They send us a mix of what they have available and we hope it fits our needs.’
2 How much of the donated gear is useful to the recipients?
The AC members estimated that only 70% of the gear donated to their respective countries is a useful fit for them – a level that was surprisingly consistent from East Africa to Latin America. What made donated gear ‘not really useful’? There were a number of issues:
- Incomplete turnout gear As one example, departments often receive jackets, but not pants, meaning firefighters are not fully protected.
- Turnout gear that doesn’t fit Gear from the Global North often comes several sizes too big for firefighters from many developed nations.
- Gear built for a completely different climate One AC member mentioned how his department in the Caribbean recently received -40°C gear. ‘The firefighters are proud to have something new, but there is no use case for the gear here.’
- Different brands of vehicles or equipment Having a series of different donated vehicles makes maintenance, finding spare parts and training – already a challenge – even trickier.
- Gear that is simply too worn out to use ‘We love the donations,’ one AC member explained, ‘but some of the gear we get is just too worn to use.’
3 How frequently do you pass donated gear along to a different department?
If a department receives a donation it cannot use, what happens to that gear? Our Advisory Council members explained that, when faced with that situation, their respective departments always try to pass the donation along to other departments that may have greater use for the gear. In some cases, this is relatively easy to coordinate. Jesse Hunter of Ecuador explained: ‘The Chief of our region is constantly in touch with the different departments. If Guayaquil receives a donation we don’t need, the Chief may know a different jurisdiction that does.’
However, the process of transferring donated gear to those who can actually use it is not always so simple. Large cities or federal governments sometimes hold on to gear they cannot use in order to bolster their status as a well-equipped department. Transferring donated gear can require significant amounts of paperwork. And federal governments may repossess the equipment if the proper paperwork is not completed within a particular time frame. Additionally, there’s the question of deciding between multiple departments that might need the gear.
4 How often does donated equipment come with training?
All of our AC members agreed that donated equipment is better if it comes with some sort of training – but this is rarely the case. Said Itote Waruhiu of Kenya: ‘The assumption usually is that we should know how to use the equipment. More often than not, this is an incorrect assumption that can render a donation meaningless. I remember one department that kept donated infrared cameras in storage for two years simply because they did not know how to use them.’
And then there’s the question of language. Although donated gear typically doesn’t come with training, it will sometimes arrive with instruction manuals. This doesn’t mean that the instructions will be understandable to the recipient, however. One AC member shared a story of vehicles that came with manuals written in a language from the other side of the globe – a language that no one in his department could read. ‘We tried everything – including a translation app. But the app mistranslated some things, making it even more difficult to figure out how to operate the equipment.’
There are clear opportunities
And the global Emergency Services sector can do much more. GESA’s Advisory Council made some concrete recommendations:
- Creation of better donation request diagnostics that departments can use to accurately identify and succinctly communicate their need to donors
- Development of a network/tool that leads to better matches between donors and departments in need – getting more goods out the door and to the right people
- Establishment of donation best practices, including provision of appropriate training and instruction manuals for unknown equipment
Become part of the solution
GESA is digging deeper on this issue over the coming months, looking at how we can re-imagine and improve the donor-to-department pipeline by cutting out unnecessary steps, creating common practices, and getting goods off of the lot and into the hands of those who need them. And we need your help!
If you have experience in the Emergency Services donations space, either as a donor or a recipient, and would like to share your insight to improve donation circumstances for your department and country, please email us at email@example.com to receive a brief survey.
Additionally, help GESA find solutions by applying for membership (https://www.gesaction.org/become-a-member) or by joining our weekly international conversations on the GESAction Forum (https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9029023/).
For more information, go to www.gesaction.org