In 2018, Nicaragua dealt with a massive, destructive blaze similar to what’s happening currently on the West Coast. Approximately 13,500 acres of land in a tropical nature reserve burned over the course of nine days. Firefighters were ill-equipped and contended with a deadly combination of strong winds, the region’s challenging geography and a lack of access to water.
As of early September 2020, close to 2.3 million acres of California have burned. That’s an area roughly seven times the size of Los Angeles. A combination of extreme heat, drought and overgrown forests has contributed to the ferocity of the current blazes. And there are two months left of 2020’s fire season.
Moreover, some California fire departments have gear and equipment that’s either failing or in disrepair, contributing further to the perfect storm straining the state’s fire service. Snuffing out these fires has proven incredibly difficult, to say the least.
An NC Firefighter and His Passion and Faith
More than 2,700 miles away, 29 year-old NC firefighter Robert Heussy has his eye on all of this. Through his faith-based nonprofit, Fireman’s Faith Ministry, Heussy has traveled to Nicaragua five times. Having developed relationships with a few fire departments in the country, Heussy and his team of volunteers supply them with gear and equipment donated from fire departments all over the United States.
Heussy started his life in the fire service as a junior 13 years ago by volunteering for a small, rural fire department in Elko, South Carolina. He felt drawn to be a firefighter at a young age, citing his desire to help people.
“I never remember a certain person, a certain event, or a certain thing that necessarily attracted me to the fire service,” he says. “But it was just kind of one of those things I’ve always seen out there helping the public and helping people.”
That desire to help people crossed international borders after his first trip to Nicaragua through his church in Gastonia. He first traveled there with the youth ministry group, Young Life, in the summer of 2013.
“I fell in love,” he said of the Nicaragua. “I found purpose in serving and being able to help in a different country.”
Beginning the Ministry Back in the States
Upon returning to NC, Heussy formulated a plan to help others, letting his love of the fire service couple with his faith. Hence, in 2014, he started Fireman’s Faith Ministry. The ministry’s three-pronged goal doubles as its slogan: Encourage firefighters locally, equip firefighters abroad, evangelize to firefighters globally.
Sourcing protective gear and necessary firefighting equipment from fire departments that no longer need it, Heussy and his team store the gear in a 1000 square foot warehouse space in Gastonia. After cataloging the gear and determining what the fire departments in Nicaragua need the most, Fireman’s Faith begins the complicated process of bringing equipment to the country.
Once in Nicaragua, Fireman’s Faith delivers the donated gear and trains the departments on how to use it. He makes sure that his team knows to augment the Nicaraguans’ knowledge about firefighting, not override it. “It’s not to say we’re better firefighters in North America, it’s just that, hey, we’ve done a couple of things differently that may be able to help you and keep you safe.”
Ultimately, the travels down to Nicaragua are mission trips. Therefore, Heussy and his team do their best to fold in their Christian beliefs. He stresses that the donation of gear is not conditional on the Nicaraguan firefighters’ acceptance of his faith. However, he does his best to preach the gospel through daily prayer circles and testimony.
NC Firefighter Continues Through COVID-19
Unfortunately, because COVID-19 has hampered his travel abilities, Heussy is unable to deliver the gear personally. His ministry continues to ship gear down during the pandemic.
However, Heussy has focused more on the first prong of the Fireman’s Faith mantra — encourage firefighters locally. For the past three years, Heussy has participated in Charlotte’s September 11 stair climb, a fundraiser for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
This year, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers canceled the in-person event. Not one to be deterred, Heussy donned his full gear, air pack and all, and live-streamed himself climbing the 110 flights of stairs on Facebook.
“I did it as more of a main focus to say, ‘Hey, I’m a fireman. I’m not forgetting,” ” he says. He hopes his willingness to climb regardless of the obstacles helps other firefighters feel heard, encouraged and remembered.
Looking Towards the Future
The through line in all of Heussy’s work is simple — he wants to make sure firefighters feel taken care of. Because the Nicaraguan fire service has outdated or faulty equipment, Heussy seeks out replacement gear. Through his yearly 9/11 climbs, he helps to raise money for the families of fallen firefighters everyone.
As for the Western fires, Heussy hopes to raise enough money to send supplies to California’s fire departments soon. “Our resources right now will only allow us to do so much,” he says. “It’s not cheap to ship this stuff.”
Experts predict fire seasons to worsen globally in the coming years. Therefore, Heussy hopes to increase his fundraising capabilities and grow his operation to reach as many fire departments as possible. He looks to Billy Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse as inspiration, citing its enormous scope as both disaster relief and evangelical mission outreach.
“I tell people I have Samaritan’s Purse vision,” he says. Above all, Heussy thinks his model can be expanded. “I think our platform and our system of what we’re doing is simple enough to be able and go to every fire department in Central America, or any other country,” he says.