Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Contra Costa County Firefighters Return from Humanitarian Mission in Ukraine

The team went to many cities in Ukraine, including Bucha, Irpin, and Kharkiv

NBC Universal, Inc.

Two firefighters with the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District are back home in California after spending three weeks lending their skills to a humanitarian aid mission in Ukraine.

David Zalutskiy and Yuri Chlek took time off from their work in the Bay Area and joined a group of firefighters from around the country and around the world to provide help in Ukraine.

Zalutskiy and Chlek joined a group of firefighters with Task Force Joint Guardian. NBC Bay Area News spoke with this team before and during their efforts in Ukraine. Friday, we caught up with Zalutskiy about how the mission went.

Zalutskiy explained that over the course of the three weeks in Ukraine, the group supported Ukrainian firefighters, helped with search and rescue, donated equipment, rebuilt a fire station that was destroyed by Russian forces, constructed a playground for refugees, and provided medical trauma training. Zalutskiy and Chlek wore their Contra Costa firefighting gear while helping with the recovery efforts.

"I think the biggest thing was the support that I have here back home, family here at Contra Costa, they offered to cover my shifts while I was gone, it wouldn’t be possible without them," Zalutskiy noted. "Being there and working every day I was thinking about the guys who were there and stepped up and were there for me and our team out there, they saw the importance of this mission, it meant a lot to me."

The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District told NBC Bay Area the district is proud of what Zalutskiy and Chlek did and grateful they returned home safe.

For Zalutskiy, the trip was significant on multiple levels. He was actually born in Ukraine and his family moved to Northern California when he was 2 years old. Zalutskiy said he decided to get involved with the mission after seeing a post on social media from another California firefighter.

"Just seeing an American firefighter, a veteran that’s been overseas in other deployments, going [to Ukraine], that has no relationship to the country, it sparked something up in me, so I contacted him," Zalutskiy explained. From there, the firefighters gathered the funds, people, and equipment to make the relief effort possible.

The group of firefighters began their efforts in Warsaw, Poland where they waited for their gear and found ways to help Ukrainian refugees there.

Thanks to Zalutskiy's brother who still lives in Ukraine, the entire team was able to cross the border into Ukraine with vans and all of their equipment.

"We entered Ukraine pretty much went straight to Kyiv, we worked directly with the fire department there and they took us to the areas with the most devastation," Zalutskiy explained, "to where buildings haven't been searched yet, we were helping and working side by side with the firefighters."

The team went to many cities in Ukraine, including Bucha, Irpin, and Kharkiv.

Zalutskiy was also able to see his family members in Ukraine before the group of firefighters returned about two weeks ago.

Now, Zalutskiy is back working on the fire engine in the Bay Area with a renewed sense of gratitude.

"Be grateful, be happy, we have a beautiful state and beautiful opportunities, and it’s the best place to be in the world -I believe- it feels good to be back home," he told NBC Bay Area.

Task Force Joint Guardian is raising funds and resources for another mission to Ukraine in July to provide aid.

Firefighters from around the U.S. and around the world joined together for "Task Force Joint Guardian": a humanitarian mission to provide aid in Ukraine. Photo Courtesy David Zalutskiy.
Contact Us