Chilliwack firefighters share skills in Colombia

Four firefighters share training and equipment with South American 'bomberos'

Four firefighters spent two weeks on a trip to Columbia to train firefighters there.

The brotherhood of firefighting extended from Chilliwack to San Gil, Colombia last month.

Four of Chilliwack’s firefighters took part in a two-week working vacation to the South American country, to share their skills and knowledge with firefighters in two cities. They passed on their own training to about 90 participants, sharing information on knot tying, going over vehicle fire extrication scenarios, fire scene safety, and even how to get water to flow from the hoses.

Firefighters Erica Weight, Juan Acero, Dave Dersken and Shawn Burke traveled with the Fire Rescue International Training Association, which also sends properly trained delegates to Belize, Chile, El Salvador and Panama. They were also joined by a captain from a hall in Nanaimo.

While the local team knew they heading south to train others, they were somewhat surprised that what’s common knowledge in Canada is not practiced elsewhere.

Even though training is hard to come by in South America, it’s eagerly soaked up when offered. The Colombian firefighters, or bomberos, came from all surrounding communities to take part in the training. They overcame language barriers, and opened their doors for their Canadian counterparts.

“They housed us in their fire halls, they fed us,” Weight said.

The delegation largely focused on scene safety — to make sure their new friends would be safe on the job. Some of them weren’t even sure how to operate their vehicles, get a water connection, or tie safe knots in ropes.

“They are trying to do this job without equipment,” Weight said.

The bomberos now have more equipment to work with.

“We all packed light so we could take as much gear with us as possible to give to them,” Weight explained. But there was some cause for concern at their eagerness.

“Here in practice we are always concerned about hydration and making sure we’re not overheating,” she said.

But when the bomberos had a chance to try on their new gear, it was pushing past 35 degrees. It took a bit of cajoling to get them to take it off, she said.

Weight imagines she’ll go on another trip in the future.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “We talk about the brotherhood of firefighting but we don’t realize how it can extend that far into the world.”

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