“They say that the state should provide us with everything...”

The old fire truck, which no one needed anymore, and which was beyond economic repair, was just left rusting. But it deserved a new life: Ihor Panchyshyn and his team repaired, altered it, bought the necessary spare parts, and now they go to fire scenes in their village of Zavjazantsi, as well as in neighboring villages in the Lviv region. Volunteer firefighters benefit the entire region, so they have become an example to other communities.

ShoTam talked with Igor about the volunteer team, the fire truck, and the station refurbished from the old hospital.

Ihor Panchyshyn, a member of the voluntary fire brigade of the village of Zavjazantsi

The engine of the fire brigade

Once, back in the early 2000s, there was a fire in my yard – my shed was on fire. There were a bit more people in the village, so they came and helped put out the fire. Nowadays, there are fewer people – you rarely even meet anyone on the street.

I live in a village. The distance from our Zavjazantsi to Mostysk is 22 km, to Sambor — another 30 km, and to Sudova Vyshnia — 18. Each of these settlements has a fire station. But by the time they come to put the fire out here, it may be too late, so a fire brigade is a necessity.

I learned about such voluntary teams from Yuriy, my good friend from the State Emergency Service: he had seen such teams abroad, for example, in Poland, and had volunteer friends with whom we got acquainted.

In 2021, the local authorities approved the idea — and the VFB appeared in Zavjazantsy! We immediately joined the project “Firefighters. Improving Civil Defense in Ukraine at the Local Level”. It is implemented by the International Solidarity Fund and the Polish Cooperation Program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland. So we received 12 sets of fire uniforms, boots, helmets, pumps, a generator, and equipment.

I play an active part in our fire brigade. You may call me its “engine” as I started to promote this idea among people.

The old unit vehicle was repaired, so it is already in working order

There were 12 people in the VFB at first. Now there are fewer of us: one man passed away, some were mobilized following the full-scale invasion, as well as my brother Andrii, the deputy head of the team.

In total, I have 8 brothers, and I am the youngest one. They all left: some moved abroad, others to Lviv or Kyiv. Andrii and I stayed in Zavjazantsi, so I invited him to the fire brigade. He is older than me by two years. Now I am the vice-deputy in our volunteer fire brigade, and Volodia Dobrovolski is the head.

Our VFB is located almost in my yard – my house is just a few meters away, and Volodia’s house is next to it. Once there was a two-storey hospital and utility premises with a dining room and a shower room. So we decided to adapt it to our needs, and since Volodia and I are active VFB members, the fact that the station is close to us with a pond nearby, also suited us.

The town council approved our idea, so we commenced preparations: we built a garage, a utility, and a recreation room. We want to improve it further, but while we have the war, it can wait.

We got the vehicle from another unit – it was parked just outside. They said we could take it. It was old, but we repaired it, bought some parts, installed new batteries, adjusted it a bit – all on our own – and the vehicle is already in working order! The town council took our transport to the balance, and helped us with fuel.

So we can react promptly: recently there was a call at 11 p.m., and we gathered by the vehicle in three minutes. We got into it, drove, and put the fire out. Then the state firefighters arrived and dealt with the debris and took it away.

We went to fire scenes in houses, sheds, clubs, and even forests

Last year, our VFB had many calls. For example, a car was on fire – failed safety regulations – and we arrived and put it out. We went to house and shed fires – both in our village and neighboring ones. Just recently, a club was caught on fire seven kilometers away, so we were called too.

Especially in the first days of the war, people here actively burned deadwood in spring. We also went to put a forest fire out – they set fire to leaves. In total, we have already had at least 20 calls.

People realized that having a fire engine in the neighborhood is quite beneficial. And we mostly use it to fight fires, but there are other difficult situations. For example, the bus got stuck in winter. We went to pull it out of the snow – we have a special winch, and we hook it from the front. So we help whenever we can.

Our fire station is also a meeting place: on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, we gather and talk. We check the vehicle – whether it is working and whether there are no breakdowns. And we are happy we can help people at any time. We are constantly developing and desiring many things, but then we have to “knock” and not be silent and wait for a miracle.

The children wanted to extend the camp time: 5 days is not enough

This year, Zavjazantsi VFB applied for the program “Accelerating potential development of newly created volunteer fire brigades” by the NGO Volunteer Firefighters supported by East Europe Foundation. Within the project framework, we had first aid training and organized a camp for children.

I believe it is better to start such voluntary work with the younger ones, so in August we had a 5-day camp, from Monday to Friday. We took the participants to the state fire unit in a neighboring city, where the vehicles were even bigger than ours, so the children were interested. We held different games for them, first aid training. Since we organized the camp within the project framework, East Europe Foundation paid for food for children and materials for classes. The classes were conducted by Daria Kostetska, the head of the village community hall.

And already on Saturday and Sunday, children came to her yard, as they wanted to continue the camp. They were excited by the training. Parents were also satisfied that the children were busy and interested.

Adult participants had training in first aid and simulations of various situations: rescue from a damaged building, smoke-filled rooms, etc.

Not only the members of our volunteer team but also younger residents of the village – aged 15-18 years – were trained. Following the training, I found out that they had created a separate group in Viber – “Youth voluntary team of the village of Zavjazantsi”. And I told Volodia: “See, our people are slowly getting involved”.

I know that people would like to be rewarded for every job, but during martial law, it is suffice and beneficial to know your way in difficult situations, because anything can happen anywhere, and we are already trained.

Who makes the state? We do!

Obviously, in our village people work on weekdays, so we can practice on Sundays. Therefore, we continue the training and invite everyone interested. We already have some experience, and an even bigger desire, so we will share it with others. We have materials from other simulations, so we will learn to provide aid, carry the wounded, and apply bandages.

I see that although at first people were a little doubtful about our VFB venture, now they understand that the fire brigade in the village is beneficial. Even fresh people wish to join.

And we also plan to establish our voluntary fire brigade as a public one by law, so that we don’t have to wait for any decision on us and have our account. I guess we will do this but maybe after our victory.

I have a small family florist business, I have been doing it since the 90s. My oldest brother used to do it too, but he lost interest, and I was young and got involved. Since I keep greenhouses, I can also invest my funds in the team. At first, we had nothing, but now we have collected things little by little. We buy something ourselves, and also we participate in projects.

I notice that our Zavjazantsi voluntary team is seen as an example. I say: So, do you wish to have the same? Then you will have to invest your time and money.” And they go like: But the state has to provide us with everything.” And who makes the state? We do! Therefore, start acting and get it. We should remember that no pains, no gains.

When a full-scale war broke out, the fire brigade became even more necessary, as this training people took ensured useful skills. After all, explosions happen even in places far from the front line, and it is worth knowing about the dangers.

The article was prepared within the framework of the “Volunteers: Working for Peace” special project. It includes several stories about volunteers – firefighters, doctors, and rescuers.

The special project was implemented as part of the “Spilnodiia” Program, executed by East Europe Foundation in partnership with the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research and NGO Together Against Corruption and financed by the European Union.

Translated from the original article on #ShoTam

You can watch a video about Vitalii Murmyl, who decided to become a volunteer firefighter and learned to drive a fire truck, here.