San Francisco firefighter spearheads fundraising for Ukrainian counterparts

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    SAN FRANCISCO, California (KPIX) — As Ukraine continues to face war against Russia hundreds of Bay Area organizations have stepped up to aid however they can.

Russian forces have lost significant ground in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine where Russian soldiers have retreated across the border.

But the fight is not over in the City, where San Francisco firefighter Heather Buren has focused fundraising efforts for her Ukrainian counterparts.

“Once it was firefighter to firefighter, and we are a family,” Buren told KPIX 5. “Even if it’s all the way across the world, I understand what they do. I don’t understand what it is to do that in war, but I can only imagine.”

In a true firefighter spirit, Buren quickly sprang into action to help her Ukrainian colleagues by setting up a fundraiser through United Fire Service Women.

“They sent us a very specific ask letter saying, ‘We thank you for the thought of equipment, but firefighting equipment is not what we need right now,'” said Buren.

The fire chief of Kharkiv, Ukraine asked specifically for passenger vans to navigate streets that have been bombed

“What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to get their people to search and rescue buildings that have been collapsed and pull these people out and bring them to safety and bring them to the hospital. The ambulances can’t get in there,” Buren continued. “Their fire engines and fire trucks can’t get in there.”

It took just a few weeks to gather enough funds for one passenger van purchased in France. Then they quickly collected enough to send for the purchase of a second vehicle.

“This is me asking other firefighters and my family are women’s group just sending that out to everybody,” she added. “And it’s the other people in this or in this group that I’m working with.”

Working with a French aid group the vans were quietly driven over one thousand miles to the Ukrainian border, constantly cautious about the security risk and political implications.

“So they drove the vans right over the border here in Ukraine and the Kharkiv firefighters came and met them. And what we’re talking about here also. Because once you’re in Ukraine, this is a war zone,” said Buren.

Buren said this effort has highlighted the firefighter’s willingness to help and formed an unbreakable bond from halfway across the world

“That’s where us being we do the same job. It’s in all the way across the world, different languages, but we do the same job. And that when they said that, it really set in,” Buren continued. “And I said, okay, well, how can you do that.”

Since then, Buren and her colleagues have raised an additional $22,000 sponsoring a third passenger van and a large transport trailer.

Plans are in the works for the San Francisco and Ukrainian firefighters to meet, but until then Buren says she is on standby to provide more aid when asked.

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