Noble buys fixer-upper fire truck for city in Zambia

By Corene Brisendine

A journey begins and ends in Africa.

Fifteen years ago, Colin Noble, owner of Noble Hospitality and the Holiday Inn at the Campus, took a trip to Africa to visit a friend who owns a farm in Zambia.

Between hunting on safari and enjoying the quiet retreat from civilization, Noble decided he wanted to connect with someone from his native country, Ireland, living and working in Zambia. His friend introduced him to a man who ran a hotel management school in Africa. Inspired by the man’s desire to help Africans make a better life for themselves through education, Noble also decided he wanted to assist the people of this Third-World country. So he started bringing students from that school to Kansas State University to study.

“They just needed a chance—an opportunity,” Noble said.

Over the years, Noble helped bring 36 students to the United States to learn hotel management at the university. But after Sept. 11, travel restrictions meant he could no longer bring them into the country and was unable to help as he once did.

But Noble kept in touch with one student, Christopher, who had graduated from K-State with a degree in hotel management. Christopher currently manages a hotel in Lusaka, the capitol of Zambia. Because of his connection with Christopher, Noble has helped raise funds for various projects needed in that community, such as a new hospital and a school. And more recently, he became aware of Lusaka’s need for more fire engines and equipment. The city of 2 million people currently has only three fire trucks — and only two are functioning. Inside, the station is vast but empty. The equipment consists of a couple of fire jackets, a couple pairs of fire boots and 16-penny nails hammered into the wall of the station to hang their jackets on.

“They are going to fires in flip-flops,” Noble said. “It really made me feel uncomfortable that we have so much and they have so little.”

By comparison, Manhattan, home to about 50,000 people, has—as of June—five fire stations and 10 fire trucks of various types and uses. The new fire station is fully equipped with showers, beds, lockers, uniforms, hats, boots and gear for every fire fighter working from that station. Noble said after touring Manhattan’s new fire station in June, “There’s not a better one.”

Noble looked for a way to help.

An opportunity

When Noble went to the opening celebration of Fire Station No. 5 in June, he learned that Manhattan Fire Department was not only getting a new fire station, but also a new fire truck. Noble asked Jerry Snyder, director of fire services, if there was a way he could acquire the old fire truck from the city. Noble asked if the city would donate the truck, but Snyder said it was not possible.

“We didn’t want to go that route because of what was wrong with it, and we worried about liability issues,” Snyder said. “We also didn’t know who to transfer the title to.”

So Snyder told Noble the city would put the fire truck up for auction at Purple Wave, and Noble could try to win the bid.

The auction officially opened online Nov. 13 and closed Tuesday morning. York Hekel, director of customer service at Purple wave, said the fire truck was part of a government auction in which several other items were on the block. He said Purple Wave received 36 bids on the truck with Noble winning the bid at $10,000. As a way to help, Hekel said the auction company waived its 10-percent fee.

Noble said he called Christopher on Tuesday morning with the good news and made it a Christmas present of sorts. Even though the truck is nowhere near ready to be sent to Zambia, the news that Noble had purchased the truck was a gift in itself. Noble said he also received a letter of thanks from Lusaka’s fire chief, Robert.

“I have a lovely letter from him,” Noble said. “It explains just how little they have.”


More hurdles to face

Now that Noble has the truck, he has more hurdles to face before sending it to his friends in Zambia. The truck needs a lot of work, Snyder said.

In order to get it back in top shape, it needs new hoses and tires, tubing and a new or refurbished pump. Snyder said one of the reasons the fire department sold it was that the existing pump doesn’t pump as much water as it should, and it would cost the city more than it was worth to fix.

Snyder also said the department doesn’t have any other used equipment to donate to Noble’s project because they use their equipment until it can no longer be repaired or maintained.

“We are still using hoses that are 45 years old,” Snyder said. “Not many, but a few. We just keep patching them and repairing them until they can’t be used anymore.”

Snyder added that he would be happy to get Noble in touch with people who can offer him the best deals on parts, equipment and clothing.

Noble admitted he could simply buy everything needed to fix the truck and the equipment if he wanted, but he would rather get the community involved.

“I could write a check,” Noble said. “I could have bought a fire truck from anywhere—England or Europe—and just shipped it to them. But that is just so cold. I want to get Manhattan involved. I want this to be a warm experience the entire community can be a part of.”


The cost of the journey

Noble said it will cost about $10,000 to fix the fire truck and obtain the equipment, and an additional $10,000 to ship it.

The trip from Manhattan to Lusaka is a long one. It will have to be driven from Manhattan to Houston. From there, it will be placed on a ship and sail over the ocean to Durbin, South Africa. From Durbin it will be driven north across South Africa and Kenya and finally across Victoria Falls into the heart of Africa where it will reach its final destination in Lusaka, Zambia.

He is still working out the logistics, contacting various community members and deciding if he wants to hold a raffle or rummage sale—as he did in the past to raise $100,000 to build a hospital in Africa—or seek donations in the mall before Christmas.

He hopes to accomplish all this by March 16, when he hopes to be able to give the newly refurbished truck a send-off for a weeks-long journey to its new home in Africa.

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