TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A national organization is looking to provide refurbished medical and fire equipment from Tampa Bay to underserved areas across the world.
One World Medics began in Fort Wayne, Indiana with Executive Director Bryan Peterson.
Peterson grew up in San Diego. He explained to 8 On Your Side he and some high school friends were in Tijuana, Mexico when a building exploded during a gas leak near where they were enjoying their time.
Peterson said he had some basic medical knowledge and helped as best he could. He met some gentlemen from the local rescue organization and decided to help out as much he could moving forward.
“The Red Cross generally has the 911 ambulance service but they’re so grossly under-manned and understaffed, but there’s just not near enough ambulances to handle the call volume,” Peterson said of Mexico. “So these what they call ‘civil associations,’ which is basically a group of people who decided to put together an ambulance or a rescue service and kind of back up the Red Cross.”
Peterson went back to assist every weekend with few exceptions, he said, until after he graduated high school. He kept in touch with the organization when he moved from California to Indiana.
In the summer of 2019, he connected with a man in the Fort Wayne Fire Department, where he was working, who was interested in third-world medicine. Peterson recommended a trip to Tijuana to volunteer their time.
“We kind of found it in a sad state. They had one ambulance that was running, this particular service, and it broke down halfway through the shift,” he explained.
When the friends got back to Indiana after their trip, Peterson said one of the places he worked part-time had an ambulance that the company was getting ready to “retire.” He made a deal with the ambulance broker to pay whatever amount a trade-in would be on the vehicle and got a personal loan for $3,500 to purchase the vehicle.
Thanks to fundraisers through Hispanic cultural leaders, the ambulance was refurbished and the crew from Tijuana was flown into the state to pick up the ambulance.
“It was kind of supposed to end there and the reason it didn’t, it was just a series of fortunate events,” Peterson said. “There were two other units that had just been decommissioned from the same hospital here in Fort Wayne that were sitting out here in the county garage lot. They’d been there for a year, sitting there, there were just really nice ambulances.”
Peterson said he inquired about them and learned they were being put up for auction. He was able to buy two ambulances for $777.
He said four ambulances were given away in the first two months of One World Medics’ infancy. In that time, the coronavirus pandemic hit and the process to get ambulances across the border into Mexico was expedited to get the vehicles into service to transport critical coronavirus patients.
Tony Falls was introduced to Peterson while working for the Fort Wayne Fire Department. He spent 13 years there before moving to Florida.
He’s trying to help his friend through departments and organizations here in the Tampa Bay area.
“So I’m trying to get the word out and my intention is really to reach out to several of the Hispanic organizations in the [Tampa] Bay area to try and get the word out and see if they’d be interested in helping to do some fundraising,” Falls said.
He said some of the municipalities he has contacted about units were skeptical about liability.
“If it comes from taxpayer funds, they want the unit to stay in the area instead of donating it, which is why I’m trying to reach out to the private services,” he said.
Falls explained it costs around $1,800 to turn around one unit for use but if it needs extra work, like a new transmission or alternator, it can run the nonprofit between $3,000 to $4,000.
“To me, I think we’re such a big, diverse community. Not even just the Tampa Bay community but the state. Local business leaders have a lot of contacts. And quite frankly, fire chiefs, EMS, heads of staff, can get the world out even about units… If they have to auction it off, there’s probably some resources there to accommodate that to get the resources,” Falls said.
Since the creation of One World Medics in 2019, Peterson said he has given away 14 ambulances. None of those have yet to come from the Tampa Bay area but Falls is hopeful with getting the word out into the community, that will happen soon.
The only expense the nonprofit does not cover is the ability to get the ambulance across the border.
“There’s usually a waiting list… this thing has spread like wildfire,” Peterson said.
He explained about 13 or 14 agencies across the world are on this list.
“Try to take them full to the gills with equipment,” he said of the ambulances.
If you’d like to get involved, you can learn more on the organization’s website. One World Medics here in Tampa Bay is always looking for equipment donations and those interested can contact Falls at firstname.lastname@example.org.