HOW BENCO’S OWN ERIC MEINERS HELPED REBUILD LIBERIA’S NATIONAL FIRE SERVICE.
WHEN YOU HEAR a siren nearby, you can be certain a well-equipped fire crew is on its way to help. In Liberia, that wasn’t the case until very recently. The West African nation, population 4.3 million, had just one fire truck and tanker, no working hydrants and minimally trained volunteers who sometimes showed up to fires in flip-flops.
Helping fix all that was the Fire Rescue Alliance, a volunteer team of 24 firefighters from around the U.S., who in 2014 fortified Liberia’s National Fire Service — among them Eric Meiners, 49, of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who works as a Friendly Benco Territory Representative. Liberia was a natural fit for Meiners; more than 30,000 people of Liberian descent live in Minnesota.
In addition to the 60-plus hours a month he gives to the Eden Prairie Fire Depart-ment, Meiners volunteers with Helps International, which brings medical care to Latin America, and donates a week each year to teaching CPR to his dental customers through the American Heart Association.
It took the Fire Rescue Alliance two years to raise the funds necessary to transport a fire truck and 100 sets of protective gear across the Atlantic.
“The Liberian government gave us $120,000 to get us all over there and help buy equipment and provide training,” Meiners says.
The leader of that government — Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state — even mentioned the Alliance in her subsequent State of the Union address. Meiners, for his part, speaks reverently of the local firefighters’ dedication. “Temperatures in the 90s and tropical humidity, and these guys with the equipment on were singing and dancing,” he says. “They finally got this equipment, and they felt legitimate.”
Ebola outbreaks precluded a return trip last year, but Meiners and the Alliance hope to get back soon. “I love the travel, people and culture, and learning outside of my little suburban life,” he says. “When you’re volunteering, people really open up.”
Want to help? Become a donor, affiliate, volunteer or prayer warrior at FireRescueAlliance.org. You can also visit HelpsIntl.org to volunteer or donate.