In Liberia, the group assumed an assessment role, looking to learn more about just what condition the country's fire department is in, doing some training with the firefighters, and meeting with the country's leadership to urge them to help.

"The country is resurrecting from 14 years of civil war that ended in 2003. In the last nine years they've come out of all that horror, and they've got a long way to go," John Butler said. "They've also come a long way.

"There are certain things you need for a sustainable society: food, water, security, stability, economic development. And another thing is fire protection."

The Liberian firefighters themselves are a paid crew, very similar in temperament and personalities to firefighters in the United States, Butler said. What they lack, however, is equipment, things American crews take for granted such as helmets, gloves, books and breathing apparatuses.

Submit a Letter to the Editor for the Laurel Leader, Columbia Flier and Howard County Times

"These guys are still fighting fire in street clothes," Butler said. The group went along on one fire call, a big blaze being battled with just one hose line. As the firefighters worked, people ran in and out of the building, looting it.

"What they called a working fire engine would have been condemned and in junkyards over here years ago," he said.

There are fire hydrants, but no water coming from them. If the one working fire tanker cannot get to a blaze, then people use buckets or garden hoses or the building simply burns down. Sometimes the fires just burn themselves out, Butler said.

All this in a country with sporadic electricity, where more people use candles and more fires happen because of that.

"I didn't expect it to be that bad," Butler said. "They're very strong with their policies. They have a good organization. The government needs to recognize them and subsidize them. It's not that it's intentionally not giving them anything. There's a laundry list this high of things you need to fix or recreate or reconstruct after a war."

The group has collected donations of used but still usable equipment and gear from departments around the country, filling a 40-foot container that is still sitting in this country, awaiting the money, or perhaps an in-kind donation, that will ship it to Liberia.

"One man's three-year-old pair of boots is another man's brand-new pair of boots," Butler said.

Fire Rescue Alliance has committed to five to eight years of helping to rebuild Liberia's fire department, with different group members traveling to the country two to three times a year. Butler hopes to return later this year with his wife, Rhonda, and their youngest daughter, a trip he had planned before becoming involved with the group's efforts.

Building a school

While John Butler worked on Liberia's fire needs in March, George Butler joined a group helping to build a schoolhouse in a village at least two hours outside of the capital.

"I could tell from the very beginning that we had sparked something in both of them," Prillaman said. "Both of them appeared to be looking for a way to give something back but just weren't sure how to do that. I think, in some ways, we gave them that way."

George recalled the villagers asking the group to join them for lunch, and him watching as many of the children went hungry; the custom there was for guests to eat first, the elders next. They are followed, in order, by the men, the women and, last, the kids.

"It was a very profound moment for me," George said. "It changed my life."

He paid for more rice for six villages and has committed to help pay for college tuition, room and board for one of the new school's teachers, a volunteer who dropped out of high school.

"A 100-pound bag of rice is $20. It makes you reflect on life here in the U.S. and how fortunate you are, but at the same time how much you do waste," George said. "It puts things in perspective.

"I've been very blessed. The United States have taken care of my family and me, but Liberia is always going to be our home."