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St. Louis firefighters head to Nairobi to share knowledge with Kenyan colleagues

Clockwise from top left - FF. Jeff Weffelmeyer, FF. Jessica Jackson, Capt. Garon Mosby, FF. Chris Tobin and Capt. Larry Conley.
UPI | Bill Greenblatt

Five members of the St. Louis Fire Department are on their way to Kenya.

Captains Larry Conley and Garon Mosby, and fire privates Chris Tobin, Jeff Weffelmeyer and Jessica Jackson will join 20 other firefighters from across the U.S. and Canada for the first-ever All-Kenya Fire Academy. The academy, a project of Africa Fire Mission, will bring together firefighters from across that country to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, for 10 days of classes.

"St. Louis has a strong tradition of sending its members out to other departments to help them train. We've done that nationally, we've done that locally, though we've never done it internationally," said Tobin, who's based at Engine House 27 in the Walnut Park East neighborhood. 

Tobin will teach his Kenyan colleagues about gathering and preserving evidence for fire investigators. But he said he will likely learn more from his students than they will from him.

"I think we’re going to learn how resilient you can actually be," he said. "We’re going to see challenges that we would never even have to face here. Their fire department is operating on a system that we operated on like 120 years ago." 

"The firefighters there know how to fight fires," said Jessica Jackson, a fire private at Engine House 32 in the Tower Grove East neighborhood. "What we're trying to bring them is some of the other stuff, like how to search and rescue, some leadership stuff, some fire investigation stuff."

Jackson will lead classes on educating communities about fire prevention - something that can be challenging in more rural areas of the country, or in the Nairobi slums.

"They're cooking on open fires," she said. "That's one aspect I have to explain to them is, don't have an open fire in your house. But if it's raining outside, you can't have the fire outside, so they try to cook inside in their huts."

Jackson said she expects the 10 days to be a humbling experience.

"“They are eager to learn, very professional," she said of her Kenyan colleagues. "They listen, this is from what I heard, they listen to everything you say and write down everything you say because they really want to learn."

The first leg of the 18-hour journey to Nairobi begins at 10:30 Thursday morning. Jackson will have worked a nearly 24-hour shift before her departure -- the other four had Wednesday off.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.