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Red Deer firefighters return from Mexico training mission

Red Deer fire-medics helped train more than 90 Mexican firefighting bomberos

Red Deer fire-medics returned from a training stint in Mexico with deep respect for their counterparts’ dedication, along with some helpful tips on how to wrangle wayward crocodiles.

Half a dozen Red Deer Emergency Services (RDES) fire-medics journeyed to Puerta Vallarta from March 1-6 to offer free training to more than 90 Mexican firefighters through the non-profit charity Angels for Mexico. Started in Calgary in 2007 by Christena Callaghan, the charity provides surplus equipment, gear and free training to Mexican firefighters.

“It was an amazing experience. Everything went really well,” said RDES safety codes officer Chris Needham, who, like the rest of the Red Deer contingent, used vacation time to make the trip.

Over five days, Red Deer’s fire-medics shared their know-how with 92 Mexican firefighters, or bomberos, from nearly a dozen different municipalities. Some were volunteer firefighters, and others, like their hosts in Puerta Vallarta, were full-time firefighters.

There was no shortage of motivation among the bomberos.

“They’re excellent. They’re extremely passionate about the job,” said Needham. “They want to be their best but they just don’t have the funding and the time to do the training.

“They get a lot of on-the-job training but they don’t get a lot of extra training.”

Red Deer’s fire-medics offered crash courses in almost all aspects of firefighting, including the use of fire hoses, managing water, fire behaviour and ventilation to repelling, slope rescue, vehicle stabilization, extrication and CPR.

While Mexican and Canadian firefighters share many similar challenges, the jobs are different in other ways.

Mexican homes are largely constructed from concrete and cinder block, so house fires are less common than in Canadian communities full of stick-built homes.

A much bigger part of bomberos jobs is responding to vehicle collisions, which often include motorcycles often with multiple passengers. A Puerta Vallarta fire commander told Needham they routinely respond to 25 to 30 collisions a day involving motorcycles or similar rides.

The Red Deer contingent also took a large amount of bunker gear and other donated equipment, including the lines and attachments needed for rope rescue.

Bomberos, from Mascota, a picturesque town in a hilly region southwest of Puerta Vallarta, were left with a supply of rope gear.

“They were extremely grateful. They don’t have a lot (of equipment), and they do a lot of slope rescue there in the mountains.”

Needham said the learning experience was not one-sided.

“They’re extremely professional and adaptable people. They don’t have a whole lot to work with and the job they do with what they have to work with was amazing to see and very inspiring.

“Their work ethic is unreal.”

As a bonus, bomberos passed on some handy tips for removing crocodiles.

“If someone has a crocodile in their swimming pool they call the fire department for that. They actually train on how to wrangle crocodiles. They took us to a crocodile refuge where they do their training and they showed us how it was done.

“That was a pretty unique experience and pretty cool.”

This year’s trip went so well that Angels for Mexico hopes to repeat the trip with RDES next year. Needham has high praise for Callaghan and her charity’s work.

“For Christena’s charity to do that for them is amazing. (The Mexican firefighters) travel from far and wide to get the training because they hear that it’s free, and that’s huge for them.”

Needham said RDES is already looking to go back and build on the relationships they established.

It was a particulary gratifying experience for fire-medic Heinar Buchan, who grew up in Mexico City and is fluent in Spanish and acted as interpreter.

“It was extra special for him to go back and give back to his home country and he did an amazing job. He was invaluable to have on our team.”