Past fire chief rallies community to aid Ukraine

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Joe Kowal with shipping container full of EMS supplies for Ukraine

PORT JERVIS – Like many in his community, Port Jervis Past Fire Chief Joe Kowal has spent a great deal of time following the situation in the Ukraine.  Since the initial strikes of war this year, he, with a strong Ukrainian background himself, pondered how best to help.

“It just hit my heart that they were doing this to my people, and I knew I wanted to do something that would make a difference.  I wanted to do something in ways that would help where there was great need,” Kowal said.

Kowal decided to reach out to collect emergency gear and items in America, items that were no longer able to be used due to revisions in national, state, or local requirements.

He and others put the word out that this collection had been launched, and items that were outdated or not needed, but in good working order, began to slowly trickle in.

He credits his grandson, also a PJFD firefighter, for getting the biggest response by posting on a social media site he created for emergency news, photos, and other items of interest.

“Once Matt (Kowal) put this out on his site, the items started coming in like crazy.  What we have now is worth a million and a half dollars.  It’s all going to the Ukraine, probably through Poland,” Kowal said.

The collection of donated emergency equipment and devices is currently stored in a large container at the edge of Kowal’s yard.  The container will be picked up on July 17 and transported to New York City for item packaging and shipment to the Ukraine.

Kowal said he is working on a letter to be placed in a coat he wore himself when he was an assistant chief in his department.  The letter, in part, will speak of his own feelings on the war and his own family’s Ukrainian connection and heritage.  He will tell them he considers the people of Ukraine family, and that helping in this way was the least he could do.

Kowal’s grandparents, Anna and Nat Kowal, immigrated in 1914 from Galicia, Ukraine to Port Jervis.  His grandfather, a carpenter, then worked for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad, repairing box cars in Port’s roundhouse.  The couple lived on Brown Street, where Joe’s father, John Kowal, and siblings were born.

His grandparents, parents, and others in his family all spoke both English and Ukraine’s language fluently and passed Ukrainian values on to him.

“I’m a Ukrainian.  I’ve always felt I’m a Ukrainian, and I’m always proud that I’m Ukrainian,” Kowal said.  “Ukrainians are proud, hard-working, and will never let you down or give up.  They are relentless. They don’t give up.  I don’t give up either. I want things done the right way – no exceptions.  I was taught to work hard, and you’ll get what you need to get.”

At 69, Kowal is still working in the paving businesses started by his father in 1959 and in which he began helping with at the age of seven.  He attributes his own career success to that early advice, and to Ukrainian values with which he was raised.

A careful list of items was kept by Kowal as donations were received. Among these items are: 75 helmets, 124 fire pants, 152 coats, 57 pairs of boots, 96 SCBA, 150 bottles, 56 masks, 10 hoods, 18 pairs of gloves, three harness, three valves, 13 bailout sets, 20 backboards, four suction units, six defibrillators, three Honda generator lights, two large air bags, controller, and hose, one Tic,one1 Stihl TS 510 saw, one ICS Vest, and miscellaneous bags and suspenders.

The following emergency units and communities were among those who contributed:  Mechanicstown, Goshen, Fort Montgomery Fire District, Warwick Vol. Ambulance Corp, Coddenham, Garrison, Yulan, Maybrook, Middletown Fire Departments, and Orange Lake Winona Flake Eng. 2.  Arthur Trovei donated the container.  Mulch Mart of Route 17 New Hampton will deliver the goods to New York City for Packaging, and Jim Rohner took care of the logistics.