CHICAGO (CBS) — Nearly two dozen members of the Chicago Fire Department were heading to Puerto Rico on Wednesday to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Maria.
The firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, and engineers volunteered to help victims of the devastating storm. For some of them, Maria hit close to home.
“It is emotional. You want to stay focused on what you’re doing. We have family members that are in trouble. I mean, I have family members that I haven’t been able to get in contact with, yet, and make sure they’re okay,” Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said Wednesday at O’Hare International Airport. “Members are going there concerned, but their mission first: help Puerto Rico fire department first.”
Santiago said 20 of the 22 headed to the island are bilingual. The commissioner said another 400 members of the department also volunteered to go, even offering to pay their own way.
The team making the trip will help support local firefighters and paramedics in Puerto Rico, not take over their day-to-day jobs.
“Their mission is not going there to rescue, fight fires, or anything. They’re there to assist,” he said. “These guys can drive trucks. You name it, they got skills. I’ve got a couple electricians, carpenters.”
Firefighter Marilyn Vega, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, said it’s an honor to go.
“Going out there and helping the general population means a lot to me,” she said.
“They’ve spent all night and all day gathering equipment, gathering rations so that we can support ourselves, and so that we don’t take anything from, Puerto Rico,” Santiago said.
The men and women making the trip had to use their vacation time to go to Puerto Rico.
A Puerto Rico business owner who flew to Chicago from the island on Wednesday said their help will go a long way.
“Thank them, because we need more people down there,” Raul Colon said.
The Fire Department also was sending communications equipment, medical supplies, and other materials to Puerto Rico – including flashlights, batteries, defibrillators, syringes, oxygen machines, stretchers, and more. The volunteers who are going will spend 10 days on the island, providing an assessment of what other resources will be needed.