An ongoing series of reports, articles, and news items about the Arlington
Sister City Association's programs and activities, plus news from its Sister Cities

               December 14, 2017
Firefighters from Ukraine: A Short Visit with Long-Term Effects

by Yulia Kriskovets

The Arlington Sister City Association (ASCA) is primarily known for its student exchange programs, through which hundreds of Arlington families have either hosted foreign students or sent their children to visit our sister cities abroad. This year, ASCA's Ivano-Frankivsk Committee expanded the scope of its cooperation with our Ukrainian sister city by organizing its first firefighters' exchange.

Zeno Chaply, president of the Ivano-Frankivsk Committee (in white shirt), welcomed a team of Ukrainian firefighters at Dulles Airport on September 25.

The event was a smashing success. Three Ukrainian firefighters - V olodymyr Chernetskyi (fire chief of Ivano-Frankivsk), T aras Kochkodan, and Mykola Burlak, a ccompanied by interpreter Oleksi Chernetskyi - v isited Arlington from September 25 through October 6, 2017. The new program was supported jointly by ASCA, which covered the delegation's travel costs from and to Ukraine, and the Arlington County Fire Department, which hosted the Ukrainian firefighters in a local firehouse and provided meals and professional training. 

It took a long time for all elements of the exchange to come together. The idea came about when members of the Ivano-Frankivsk Committee learned of a February 2015 ASCA project that brought a firefighter from Aachen to Arlington and decided to organize a similar professional exchange. In July 2016 Zeno Chaply, president of the Ivano-Frankivsk Committee, led a five-person ASCA delegation to Ukraine that included a visit to the city's main fire station and emergency-response center. 

It was during this visit that Mr. Chaply and Chief Chernetskyi began concrete discussions of a firefighter exchange. By the time Jay Fisette, chair of the Arlington County Board, visited Ivano-Frankivsk in May 2017, plans had advanced to the stage where he could officially invite the Ukrainian firefighters to visit Arlington. 

Meanwhile, back in Arlington, Captain II Tiffanye Wesley, station commander of Fire Station 5 in the Aurora Hills neighborhood, arranged for the Ukrainian firefighters to be housed in her station, and to train and even respond to calls with her team.

The exchange got off to a great start: upon arrival the visitors showed off their cooking skills by preparing a hearty Ukrainian meal for their Arlington hosts. The meal was such a huge success (no leftovers were found!) that the Ukrainians were invited to prepare a farewell dinner of varenyky (stuffed dumplings) for their Arlington colleagues before leaving for home.

The visiting firefighters prepared a traditional Ukrainian dinner for their Arlington colleagues. No leftovers!

The Ukrainian team worked with two shifts of Arlington firefighters to observe the work of their American colleagues. They also used the same protective clothing and tools as the Arlington firefighters so they would truly experience the working conditions in Arlington, and were given some surplus equipment to take back to Ukraine to use there.

On October 3 the firefighters also met with Chairman Fisette in his office at Court House to review the lessons learned and to explore possibilities for future exchanges. One of the main lessons learned is that different methods of emergency dispatch have major real-world consequences. In Ukraine, for example, the fire service, disaster unit, and Red Cross all have separate dispatch units. In the United States, by contrast, all first responders use a unified 911 system, which allows for much faster responses to emergencies. The Ukrainian guests also noted that poor technical equipment also prevents their firefighters from arriving at fires as quickly as they would like.

The Ukrainian firefighters met with Jay Fisette, chairman of the Arlington County Board, at his office.

In addition, U.S. construction technologies and stricter building codes help prevent or reduce fires, limit damage, and protect building occupants. The Ukrainian fire service deals with a large number of fires in older buildings, and with less adequate resources and gear.
Another big difference between the two countries is that few women work as firefighters in Ukraine. The guests were surprised that their host captain was a woman. Captain Tiffanye Wesley was happy to dispel the myth that women are not strong enough to be firefighters, and noted how fast the perceptions could be changed in face-to-face conversations.
Both sides are now exploring the possibility of an exchange visit by Arlington firefighters to Ukraine to conduct training and share best practices. The Arlington County Fire Department is also exploring the possibility of donating used protective gear and emergency supplies to their Ivano-Frankivsk colleagues when they upgrade to the latest U.S. technology. Much of what U.S. fire departments discard as outdated equipment would be perfectly unusable - and lifesaving - in Ukraine. 

Overall, the professional exchange made a huge impact both on the Ukrainian firefighters and their Arlington colleagues. Cross-cultural programs like this do not happen often and are of great value to both guests and hosts. All the participants are now hoping for the exchange to continue, this time in Ukraine. 

Yulia Kriskovets is director of communications of the Arlington Sister City Association.

The Arlington Sister City Association (ASCA) is a nonprofit organization established in 1993. ASCA works to enhance and promote Arlington's international profile and foster productive exchanges in education, commerce, culture, and the arts.