Three shipping containers of firefighting equipment for bomberos are stuck while the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 182 battles Mexican Customs.
Branch President John Kelly brought in a fire truck for the bomberos in 2017 and is now working overtime with his members to help firefighters in Mexico with three shipping containers of donated fire trucks and equipment from Canada
John Kelly and his friend Snoopy from Candian Legion Branch 182.
Patrick O’Heffernan, Ajijic. Fire departments, paramedics and civic organizations in Canada have pulled together three shipping containers of valuable and badly needed fire fighting equipment for bomberos in Mexico, including three fire trucks and dozens of protective suits for firefighters. But the equipment is mired in Mexican Customs red tape, with one container being held up for three years and even AMLO could not dislodge it.
John Kelly and Branch 182 of the Royal Canadian Legion are on the job.
“We did everything they demanded; they wanted us to list every item in the containers on their forms, then they changed forms, then they demanded a photo of each item, then detailed descriptions and then we had to redo the letterhead and then told us we took too long and had to start over again. It was crazy – unbelievable amounts of bureaucratic red tape,” Kelly told Laguna.
Even lobbying at the highest levels has not budged the shipment, which Branch 182 discovered when it was able to bring the problem to the attention of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“One of our members was in a car with AMLO and told him about the customs problem and AMLO said he would fix it – a year and half later there is no change,” Kelly told Laguna, explaining that it is difficult for very high-level leaders to change local decisions in Mexico.
Kelly and Chapala Branch 182 are not giving up. They are starting over but working with lower level politicians who may have the experience and influence to move it. Kelly explained that it is necessary to work with people in the right place in the organization because “the top level can’t reach down to change things on the ground.”
Kelly told Laguna that a prime reason the members of the Chapala Branch 182 – and he himself – are determined to get the equipment to Mexico is that the Canadian military shares the values of the bomberos about community service and protecting people.
“The bomberos are amazing, selfless people. They run into burning houses with no air tanks and no protective suits to save people. Their values are almost identical to the values instilled in us by the Canadian military,” he said.
Kelly and his wife moved to Ajijic in 2013 as “economic refugees” from high living costs in Canada. He joined Branch 182 and volunteered and within a year he was asked to be President. Since Branch 182 actually represents Canadian vets throughout Mexico and is a well-run source of services for Canadian veterans, he was proud to take over its leadership. Since his election, Branch 182 has grown not only in membership, but in its relationships with the Mexican communities, governments and non-profit organizations in cities and towns where there are concentrations of Canadians. Here in Chapala, it is highly respected as a well-organized partner in community work.
His involvement with the bomberos and with bringing in equipment for them started with a request for Legion members to bring in fire suits in their luggage when they returned from Canada. When the director of LCS learned that a local Mexican, Alicia Gomez, had gotten 200 fire suits donated from firehouses in Canada and needed them shipped to Chapala, he called Kelly, whom he knew from John’s teaching English at the Wilks Center.
“We could not do that (ship 200 fire suits) ourselves at the Branch, so we put together a coalition of the American Legion, Rotary, Shrine, and Red Cross and the Bomberos to get these suits to Mexico. Then Firefighters without Borders in Vancouver had a firetruck to donate, so we figured out how to get that here too,” Kelly told Laguna.
The firetruck made it to Mexico in 2017, about the time when the red tape started for the shipping container with fire suits and other gear (including baseball team equipment) that Kelly and the Branch are working on now. But, in the meantime, Branch 182 is involved in many other local charities and events. Some of the most fun things they do, Kelly said with a smile, is marching in parades and entertaining the Cancer kids in Chapala, where members appear as Santa Claus and Snoopy. Kelly hasn’t worn the Snoopy suit, but he does bring it to the party and was happy to show it off.