Retired Solano County firefighter collects, donates old gear to volunteer departments

His collection includes old helmets, jackets, pants, boots, backpacks and more. Sometimes, he’s even able to buy older fire trucks and engines to donate.

SUISUN CITY, Calif. — When you pass by Lupe Benitez’s home in Suisun City, it’s hard to miss all the firefighter equipment sprawled out on his lawn.

Benitez is an immigrant from Mexico and retired Suisun City firefighter of 23 years who now spends his days collecting gear to hand-deliver essentials to save lives.

“So it’s not going to the trash, it’s going to help people,” he said. 

His collection includes old helmets, jackets, pants, boots, backpacks and more. Sometimes, he’s even able to buy older fire trucks and engines to give to volunteer firefighters in Mexico and beyond.

“They don’t have anything (like this). They go fight fires with cowboy boots, Levi’s jeans and they grab mops, I mean, whatever they can to fight these fires,” said Benitez.

He started donating 10 years ago when he saw a rollover crash happen in front of him while on a trip with his family in Mexico.

“I was helping and doing everything I could,” said Benitez. “The ambulance showed up to help these guys… And the guys just got like a box of Band-Aids. Nothing on them. No gear, no nothing.”

When getting back home, he began asking his and other departments what they do with their old gear and equipment once they get new ones. Most of it is disposed of, but some is donated to educational classes or volunteer fire departments. Sometimes, they’re bombarded with too many donations, resulting in more disposal. 

It resulted in Benitez asking if he could have it to donate himself, gaining the support of fire department’s all along the west coast. 

“I don’t even know how it ended up with fire departments as far as Oregon, Bedford, Seattle. Even on my way to Mexico, I stopped in Phoenix (to collect donations),” he said. 

He takes his truck and trailer that he uses to rent mechanical bulls, fills it to the very top with gear and takes it on a 36-hour long trip to Mexico — all funded through his business and himself. 

It’s something he even took vacation days from work to do.

“Everybody is a volunteer down there. They don’t get paid for anything. So I stop at the small cities and ask ‘What do you need?’” said Benitez. “I give it to them if I got it on the truck.”

Now that he’s retired, he’s able to collect more gear, which resulted in the near two tons sitting in his driveway. 

“At the end of the day… directly or indirectly, I already saved a couple of lives, I can guarantee you,” said Benitez. “That’s what makes me feel like I accomplished something. And that’s what makes me keep doing it.” 

Benitez is gearing up for his next trip, aiming to leave at the end of April. He encourages anyone, or any fire department, looking to make donations instead of disposing of their gear to reach out to him on social media

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