Guadalupe firefighters tackle wildfires and raise money with eBay

Perhaps we should all just admit it. There are only three times we pay attention to the Town of Guadalupe. The first is when we use Avenida del Yaqui as a shortcut to get away from I-10's numbing rush-hour traffic. The second is when we want to buy cheap zarapes or ceramic garden pots along Avenida del Yaqui. The third is when we watch, read, or listen to the news about people who live on or near Avenida del Yaqui.

On that last one, note how the news is always bad in Guadalupe.

Sheriff stalks immigrants. City council member faces recall. Gang-related crime rises. Budgets shrink. Restaurant exposes diners to hepatitis. First Lady Laura Bush appears.

I ask you, how can a town named after a virgin always seem like it's getting fucked?

It makes no sense. I decided to search for some good news in Guadalupe.

After all, I've always loved this little town and its people. Why can't we hear some good stories? I know they are there. I've heard them. All you need to do is just sit down at one of the shiny, lemon-scented tables at Guadalupe Martinez's restaurant, San Diego Bay at the Tianguis Market, 9201 S. Avenida Del Yaqui. One word: mariscos. If the plump shrimp, flaky fillets, and spicy shellfish weren't enough, the elegant Lupe will sit and talk with you about goings-on along the Avenida; snippets of her family life, a touch of chisme, and tales about how this community reminds her of Mexico.

Or, you can just go to a town council meeting. I did that, too, recently. That's were I met Wayne Clement. For the past three years or so, he's served as interim chief for the Guadalupe Fire Department. But he's served on the squad for close to 15.

The other day he was telling me a story about how his department got a new(ish) fire truck. I'll explain more in a moment, but first, I have to tell you that Captain Clement politely refused when I asked him to e-mail me a photo of this particular truck. He said, "Oh, I don't know," clearly worried for some reason. "Why don't you just come by the station tomorrow and I'll just show you, instead?"

Well, it turns out that Captain Clement gets a bit annoyed when he has to use his station's computer because he says it's a bit too old, clunky, and slow. Retro-techno-handicaps notwithstanding, the captain has nonetheless actually figured out how to use the computer for auctions, if not for sending jpgs. Turns out Clement and his department built that aforementioned fire truck using parts they rummaged on eBay. Furthermore, in the process, they made a hunk of dough for the town of Guadalupe, saved some forests, and put some teens in the town on a career path.

It all started back in 2005, way before Sheriff Joe threatened to leave Guadalupe sans law enforcement, when the firefighters in the town realized their community was struggling financially. They wondered if public safety would be compromised if city leaders were forced to make tough budget choices.

At the time, Clement remembers, the fire department needed new equipment and at least one new fire truck. But the town leaders couldn't afford the $100,000 tab.

Luckily, firefighters are smart. They are resourceful. They are helpful.

Their solution to the town's budget woes was instant and brilliant.

Wildfires.

Wildfires?

Yes. Wildfires. Guadalupe's Fire Squad decided to turn its focus to fighting wildfires as a way to make money and get new trucks and gear. Why not? After all, in a town of barely more than 5,500 people, there aren't multiple fires every day. There's time to spare. The department regularly lends support to fire calls on the Gila River Reservation as well as its bigger neighbors in the county, like Phoenix.

And when it comes to passing county and even state lines to fight wildfires, Captain Clement explains, "Lots of smaller stations do it. We contract out to fight wildfires and then the checks from the federal government start coming in. It's pretty common."

Here's what isn't common: The Guadalupe Fire Department didn't have a way to get to the wildfires to fight them. So, they had to build a way. That's where the whole eBay hocus-pocus comes in. The dudes went online to make it happen. After several months of online scouring for chassis things and axle watchamahootchies, the firefighters had what they needed to fashion an actual functioning wildfire-fighting truck out of eBay odds and ends.

"Lots of people thought it was a piece of junk, but it went to Sedona two years ago. Fought those fires. Then we sent it up to the state of Washington and we fought fires up there, too," Clement says.

Get this: They spent about $10,000 to build it. But after all was said and done, Clement and his buddies tripled the town's investment. The fire department made $30,000 fighting other people's fires. I asked Captain Clement whether his firefighters could make more for the town in the future. "Maybe," he says. "We're set for now. But it's good to know we can help."

Cheers to a brighter side of Guadalupe. Never forget that even if bigger bullies with bad haircuts and ill-fitting pants try to pick on you, the smaller, smarter sissy can win.

 
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