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A Heartfelt Shipment from Port Jervis, NY to Ukraine

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.

PORT JERVIS, NY - As the war continues in the Ukraine, many across the world keep its people in their prayers and wish for it to end. One Port Jervis fire chief is among those who have had the Ukrainian people and nation in his heart all of his life. He pledges to continue to do all he personally can to help.

Last year, PJFD Deputy Chief Joseph Kowal, a 51-year firefighter and leader in his community, collected more than a million-dollars-worth of gear that had been updated and was no longer needed. This year that gear, all in good working order and condition, made its way to the Ukraine.

Among the practical, life-saving items that were sent was a personally handwritten letter from Kowal, placed in the pocket of his own replaced Past Chief fire coat. It began, “To my Fellow Ukrainian Firefighters.”

Kowal is of Ukrainian descent. His grandparents, Nat and Anna Kowal, were immigrants in 1915. They came from Galicia, Ukraine to Port Jervis and settled on Brown Street. This was where Kowal’s father, John Kowal, and siblings were born and raised. Kowal recalls his grandparents, parents, and others in his family all speaking both English and Ukraine’s language fluently, and attributes their strong Ukrainian values as being passed down to him from them.

As he began to collect and eventually fill a shipping container full of much-needed fire gear, Kowal said from the start that he would continue to help in any way possible.

“I’m a Ukrainian. I’ve always felt I’m a Ukrainian, and I’m always proud that I’m Ukrainian,” Kowal shared. “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 70, Kowal still works part-time in the paving business started by his father in 1959, which he himself began helping in at age seven. He also remains one of the most active firefighters in his hometown.

The gear listed in Kowal’s collection initially included 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. More (including a heartfelt letter to his grandparents’ homeland) was added before the collection was shipped this year.  

That letter, with permission given to share, reads as follows:

To My Fellow Ukrainian Firefighters,

I have taken time to collect this used fire gear throughout the Counties of Orange, Ulster, and Sullivan in the State of New York and Pike County in Pennsylvania. I did this to help with your efforts in fighting back the Russian forces that are trying to take over your country. I am part Ukrainian as my grandfather and grandmother came from Galichia back in 1915 to the U.S.A. where my grandfather worked on the Erie railroad for 60 yrs.

I am a volunteer firefighter for the City of Port Jervis, NY for 51 yrs. My son and two grandsons are firefighters in Port Jervis, as well as the U.S. Airforce. It deeply saddens me to see what is happening.  

This is the only way I found I could truly help. I hope this gear can help you. If new, the gear collected would cost over a million U.S. dollars. I don’t know who will find this letter, but I am enclosing a cross that has protected me through my time as a chief and firefighter. May it keep you safe as well. God bless you and all your troops.

Thank you for your service.

Joseph J. Kowal, Sr.

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SHARON SIEGELSenior Correspondent

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