HANI I ELEZIT/DJENERAL JANKOVICH, Kosovo Steep mountain roads have been the only way to reach some of the outlying villages around here. During inclement weather even a four-wheel drive vehicle can have difficulty reaching some of these areas.
The roads can make it difficult in times of crisis, such as a fire, for rescue workers to access homes. Making matters worse, the municipality's fire truck was in need of a little attention.
Liaison Monitoring Team 8, part of Multi-National Task Force-East, is responsible for Hani I Elezit/Djeneral Jankovich, pronounced Hawn EE IL AZIT/ General Yankovich, the former is the Albanian name, the latter is the Serbian translation. Two of LMT 8's members, 1st Lt. Jake Larson, of Warren, Minn., and Sgt. Dale Clemens, of Noonan, have experience working for rural volunteer fire departments.
"We heard from the last rotation the fire department was nonexistent as far as fire-fighting capabilities. With Lieutenant Larson and I on the team, it piqued our interest. To us a key point to a community is to have an active fire department, whether it is volunteer or full-time," Clemens said.
Soon after arriving in Hani I Elezit/Djeneral Jankovich for the first time, the soldiers learned of the firefighters' equipment concerns. The main focus was the 36-year-old fire truck that had a few maintenance issues.
"Their fire truck does work, but it lacks the power to make it up the mountain roads to the surrounding villages with a full load of water," Clemens said.
Larson, the officer in charge of Team 8, worked with the local firefighters to check over the equipment. He did not have to go far to find a soldier or two with experience in maintenance.
Staff Sgt. Corey Ebach and Spc. Dana McLeod, also members of Team 8, happen to be mechanics. Ebach, of Bismarck, works full time at the North Dakota National Guard Field Maintenance Shop in Bismarck. McLeod, of Bismarck, is a mechanic with the 957th Multi-Role Bridge Company.
"I was focused in other areas, but for (1st Lt.) Larson and (Sgt.) Clemens, both being volunteer firefighters, it was an obvious special interest," Ebach said. "I told them I would stop by, and hopefully, offer some mechanical experience to help them out."
Larson made an appointment with the municipality's firefighters to have a look at the truck. Ebach and McLeod dove right in, going over the vehicle with the driver and providing tips to the local firefighters.
"They have a truck that is 36 years old and cosmetically it did not look too bad. The pump seemed to work and the water flowed just fine, but it did have a few leaks," Ebach said.
"The driver did mention it had trouble going up an incline with a full load of water, the engine did not have enough power."
The truck is not the only equipment the firefighters have, but it is the oldest and requires more attention.
"They have some really nice equipment, a jaws-of-life and portable pump that both have gas engines that are relatively new. A big part of what they will need to implement is maintaining their equipment," Larson said.
The LMT continues to stop by, from time to time, to check on them, but they also have been keeping their eyes on where they can offer assistance or advice next. But, ultimately, it is up to the municipality to lead the effort.
"We have been involved in a few projects that are related to the youth of Hani I Elezit (Djeneral Jankovich), where we could utilize our experience," Larson said.
The team has been teaching English at a school in Gorance, an outlying village, where they stop by once a week. Larson was a teacher for four years and has shared his skills in the classroom.
The team just can't seem to stop teaching.
Larson also spent time as a wrestling coach when he was a teacher, and while walking the streets of Hani I Elezit/Djeneral Jankovich, he found a wrestling club.
"I actually wrestled one of the kids, he was good, a stellar athlete. We hope to continue working with them in the future," Larson said.