Cobb Fire Engineer Ed Vance, 38, heard about work that Dr. Adegboyega Adesokan, a pediatrician at WellStar Cobb Hospital, was doing in Nigeria from Vance’s wife, a nurse in the pediatric emergency room there. The doctor is a native of the west African nation.
“He just started going back and doing philanthropic work, helping out the governor of the state,” Vance said.
Adesokan initially planned to bring a different firefighter to help train the fire department in the state of Ekiti. But when that firefighter had to back out because of family issues, Vance stepped in. And he was able to bring Lt. Kyle Smith, 36, a fellow Cobb firefighter and friend. Both live in Powder Springs.
Vance said he notified Smith about the weeklong trip on Jan. 31. They met with Adesokan the next day and were on the 11-hour flight to the capital city of Lagos on Feb. 11. Smith is part of Fire Station 19 in east Cobb. Vance works out of Station 22 in Austell.
“It all came together pretty quick,” Vance said. “We love the fire service. We both love teaching. I asked him, he didn’t think a whole lot about it, and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The training involved showing 60 firefighters in Nigeria how to use a 1973 Seagrave ladder fire truck donated by a New Jersey fire department. Adesokan paid to transport the vehicle to the city of Ado-Ekiti.
Their trip was paid for by the Ekiti state government, Vance said. It’s an initiative of the state’s new governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi.
Vance and Smith spent 2½ days showing the Nigerians how to use the truck and other equipment. Smith said that every move they made, 10 or 15 people would watch.
“They wanted to see what was going on,” he said. “They had people, but very limited equipment, very limited training.”
On the fourth day, the firefighters toured the state of 2.7 million people. Though its land size is roughly that of Delaware, they said it only has six fire stations, and only three of them are operational. They said some of the stations were basically a building with a ladder locked onto the front.
“The fire service had been in disrepair for a long time,” Vance said. “But we could see the governor in charge had a road map of what he wanted to do.”
The Cobb firefighters had to learn to deal with some of the shortcomings their Nigerian counterparts faced, such as not having a reliable water system with hydrants to plug into.
“It wasn’t to try to force them to do things our way,” Smith said. “It was to do it the best way they had within their system. We don’t want to make them do something they’re not going to realistically be doing.”
The firefighters said they always felt safe, even though the U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings to parts of Nigeria.
“There were no problems in the town we visited,” Vance said. “Everybody was gracious and kind and thankful that we were over there.”
Capt. Scott Malcolm, who oversees Smith at Fire Station 19 in east Cobb, said the two were good representatives of Cobb and its fire department.
“This is a rare event,” Malcolm said. “The firefighters go to different departments in the United States all the time, but to go to a different country, especially a third world country — I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen.”
The next step in the process will be identifying candidates to bring to the United States for training, Smith said. Once some Nigerian firefighters come here to learn more about how American fire departments work, they will return to their country and teach others.
“We’re trying to identify good candidates to bring over here for training,” Smith said. “Guys who are energetic and passionate about the job and are also good at working with others.”