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Donated fire truck completes its journey to Zambia

By Corene Brisendine

It took one year, a hundred thousand bucks and a slow boat to Africa.

Yes, it was that long ago when Colin Noble decided to buy a used fire truck auctioned off by the City of Manhattan - hoping to donate it to the people of Lusaka, Zambia.

After several delays finding the right-sized fittings and all the accessories, the truck was finally ready to ship.

On Aug. 12, the truck was hauled to Baltimore, M.D., where it sat on the docks for two weeks, waiting for a ship capable of carrying it.

Noble said that because the only way to take the truck by boat was to load it on the deck, it had to sit in port until the right ship came to call.

HE SAID the ship was supposed to go directly to Durbin, South Africa, but that didn’t happen.

Instead, the vessel headed to London, where the truck was off-loaded and reloaded. Then the ship made several other calls to ports in Europe and around the coast of Africa before slowly making its way to Durbin.

“What should have only taken three weeks took more than six,” Noble said.

When the truck finally reached South Africa, the journey was only half over.

Noble said Scott Fromme, a firefighter from Wichita, volunteered to travel with the truck from South Africa to Lusaka - then train one of the firefighters to operate the truck and its equipment.

So Fromme took two weeks of vacation and flew to the port.

But once there, the truck was delayed another two weeks because of trouble with the paperwork. After it was all sorted out, the truck finally began its trek on the back of a huge tractor-trailer to Lusaka.

Fearing for the safety of the equipment, Noble arranged for the truck to travel around war-raged Zimbabwe.

So the longer route run through Botswana and across the great Zambezi River, where five countries converged near a little pontoon boat known as the Kazungula Ferry.

Noble said the ferry had already flipped three times this year trying to haul other trucks across the massive river.

He said once the ferry touched ground; the crew threw their hands up in joy.

Noble said the truck arrived in Lusaka on Black Friday, Nov. 29.

Fromme had a much more difficult time reaching Lusaka. He was not allowed to follow the truck as planned, and had to make it by bus.

Noble said it took Fromme 43 hours and two buses to finish the trip. Bus service in Africa clearly is nothing like taking a Greyhound across the U.S.


NOBLE SAID the bus pulled a covered trailer to carry baggage. The bus driver told Fromme to put his bag on the trailer and grab a seat inside.

Then the driver loaded the trailer to capacity with bags and boxes from people traveling on the bus and plenty more who were just shipping things. 

Noble said that often, drivers will take bags and boxes to stops along the route for the right price.

As for other passengers on the bus, they boarded with large bags and boxes, including one woman who brought a flat-screen TV that took up most of the aisle. Crammed onto the bus loaded with boxes, packages and people, Fromme finally began his journey.

Noble said the bus also had no bathrooms, food or water for the passengers. Even when the bus stopped for gas, most of the places didn’t have bathrooms and the people would just hustle behind a building.

Also, Noble said the bus frequently stopped for elephant herds crossing the road, which is a common occurrence in Africa.

Noble said he made sure Fromme had all the necessary paperwork to get from Durbin to Lusaka, but that didn’t stop one border guard from demanding $30 from Fromme just to enter a country.

After the truck arrived, Fromme spent three days training Robert Banda, chief of operations at the Lusaka station, on how to use all the equipment.

Finally, after spending almost four weeks in Africa, Fromme returned home to Wichita.

Fromme might be exhausted and Noble weary from the entire experience…but Lusaka now is ready to fight a fire.

“It has been like putting a man on the moon,” Noble said. “It really stretched us, but at the end of the day, a wonderful thing has happened.”

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