JACKSON, Wyo. — Sam Stein, a local firefighter for Station 1, wanted to get involved and make a difference as the crisis in Ukraine began to unfold.

Back in April, Eric Hillie, a combat veteran, and current firefighter out of the San Miguel Fire Protection District in California had a similar sentiment. Several other current firefighters joined, including Stein to form Project Joint Guardian (PJG) to help with relief aid in Ukraine.

PJG have deployed its ten-person light USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) task force to Ukraine multiple times and have delivered donated firefighting, EMS and rescue equipment to frontline fire departments throughout Ukraine since the conflict began. Stein took the Director of EMS Operations role and is a member of the executive board.

“The first trip was entirely different than the third trip,” Stein said.

The first trip, with the help of PJG member Oleg Klepach, who grew up in Lviv, Ukraine, and had spent time before the war training firefighters, “was a bit more work in contact building, and gaining trust,” said Stein.

After having established relationships with the local fire departments, the Ukrainian government began taking them more seriously.

“By the third mission, we became fully embedded with Station 11 in Kharkiv, Stein said. “We offered more specific medical aid, and even became the first NGO allowed into Izyum.”

When asked if he felt PJG has been able to make a difference in Ukraine, Stein said “Every day we did something that mattered.”

Toby Koekkoek is a Community News Reporter, and a recent resident of Teton Valley. He enjoys writing about our region's community events and the movers and shakers that make up the culture of this unique mountain town. He enjoys deep powder, and deep thoughts, skateboarding, playing racquet sports, riding his bike, and nerding out on music. Toby also coaches freeride skiing for the Jackson Hole Ski Club and runs skateboard camps in the summer.