Two Port Angeles firefighters to return to Haiti with contractor who adds his expertise

PORT ANGELES — Two of the five Port Angeles firefighters who went to Haiti on a medical relief mission in late January are packing for a return trip Sunday — and they will have company.

Capt. James “Jamie” Mason and Lt. Kevin Denton will be joined by Todd Sires, owner of Accent Construction in Port Angeles.

While the previous trip was primarily to render medical aid in the earthquake-stricken area of Port-au-Prince, this trip will be about rebuilding.

The trio plan to be in Haiti for five days, during which they will focus on the feasibility of rebuilding a church in the hillside suburbs of the sprawling city.

The firefighters met the pastor and the congregation of the church, which was destroyed in the magnitude 7.0 temblor that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, on their first trip.

“We fell in love with them, and we developed a relationship with them,” Mason said.

“The pastor has really latched on to me for some reason. We are thousands of miles apart culturally and geographically, but when we met in this remote village he asked if I loved Jesus. I said yes, we hugged and there was an instant bond.”

Mason, who attends Independent Bible Church, was invited to give a sermon for the congregation outside the ruined church.

But he said it was Denton, also an IBC member, who had the vision of rebuilding the church.

“Kevin has really taken the lead in the building project,” Mason said.

Also community center

Mason said the church is central to people’s lives in Haiti and is as much a community center as a place of worship.

The earthquake death toll is estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000, with up to a million homeless.

They are living in temporary shelters made of cloth, tin or scrap lumber, the majority inadequate to withstand the torrential seasonal rains that have now arrived in Haiti.

Mason said that while the trio won’t be building anything right away, this trip has three goals: to gather information on securing property and supplies for the new church, deepening the relationships already established and buying food to personally distribute to those in need.

Mason said an offering taken at IBC last week netted $6,500, which they will use to buy food from distribution centers in the city.

“Port-au-Prince is a massive city, and most people have no means of transportation,” Mason said. “The big issue is how to get food to remote areas.”

Supplying food

The group wants to try to establish a reliable, sustainable system of supplying food to these areas.

“It’s about teaching someone to fish, rather than giving them fish,” Mason said.

Mason said he and the original group of firefighters have been amazed at the level of support the community has shown for their efforts.

Also on the 10-day trip in January were firefighter/paramedics John Hall and Mark Karjalainen and firefighter/EMT Bryant Kroh.

The group has shared their experience with the Port Angeles City Council, at church and with schools and private groups.

“It’s been awesome — so many people want to be involved and help,” Mason said.

“I thought maybe Haiti was old news, but I’ve been blown away by the folks at IBC. When people know there’s a need, they respond in a huge way.”

Sires is also an IBC congregant and is no stranger to mercy missions.

He has gone to Mexico on IBC homebuilding missions twice and went to Iraq with a group from IBC to build a women’s center.

“When the earthquake happened, it was on my heart right away,” he said.

But the first trip the firefighters took was a medical mission, where his services would not be as valuable.

Construction knowledge

This time, he can lend his construction knowledge to building a plan.

“Hopefully, I can give some insight on the building side of things,” he said.

“I’m sure it will be a little bit heart-wrenching. I can’t imagine being in their shoes.”

Sires said his wife, Barbara, and four children, ages 10 to 21, understand why he is undertaking this project in the Third World country.

“They’re fully supportive,” he said.

If the group is successful on this trip, more groups would be needed to take on the building project.

Mason envisions subsequent trips of five to six days’ duration, overlapping for five or six weeks.

“This has gone beyond IBC — it’s community-wide,” Mason said.

Mason said he couldn’t undertake a project of this scope without the support of his family: wife Kimberlee, son Austin, 14, and daughters Kelsey, 12, and Savannah, 10.

“They’re OK with it,” he said of their children. “They understand these folks need help. They’ve seen the pictures and the need.”

He also said his wife has given her full support to the project.

“I wouldn’t go without their support,” Mason said.

Mason put out a request for anyone with connections in international shipping or architects or engineers who would like to help with the project.

He can be reached at 360-461-5365.

He also will report on their trip on his blog, www.hishandsinhaiti.blogspot.com.

________

Features Editor Marcie Miller can be reached at 360-417-3550 or [email protected]

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