Day 4

July 21, 2011

I cannot begin to describe how FANTASTIC this trip has been and continues to be! There is often talk of “pride and ownership” in the fire service back home, however, I have never seen such pride and ownership anywhere like I have seen here in Guatemala. The structure of the fire department is much different than we experience in the states. There are 127 fire companies, consisting of four firefighters, across the entire country of Guatemala. The Guatemalan government provides the fire suppression and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) for the entire country. There are a few municipal fire departments, but they are more or less private “for-profit” departments, and in general have much more resources and personnel. The municipal fire departments operate very politically, vying for press coverage and funds, where-as the Bombaros Voluntarios could care less about press coverage or popularity as long as they are able to serve their community. I describe the two entities this way to convey the rivalry between the two types of departments. The Guatemala Fire Dept. employs approximately 500 career firefighters with the rest of their 1400 firefighter/paramedics being consisting completely of volunteers! These men and women operate on a 24 on/24 off schedule, most while having a second means of employment. The companies who come to training attend during their 24 hour off duty time, either skipping their work or time with family because they want to be trained by us! How humble this makes me feel is indescribable!

After soccer last night (which was GREAT, until I kicked the ball over an impossibly tall fence…) Myself, Mitch and Rich spent the night on call with the firefighters of Station 69 in uptown Guatemala City. They opened up their home to us, allowed us to use their shower, and Hector even gave up his bed to me! We didn’t run any calls due to 99% of the call volume is EMS related and Station 69’s medic is in the shop, due to an accident while on the scene of a wreck call three months ago. The wake up bell rang at 0600 and the fire station sprang to life. Shift change is a 0800 but the firefighters wake up at 0600 in order to clean the station and prepare the equipment for the arriving firefighters. Mitch arose early, approximately 0530 and began to fix breakfast; we had a lot of mouths to feed. Mitch served by cooking bacon, which was very time consuming but never complained, showing a servants heart to myself, rich, and the firefighters of Station 69. Rich and I tag teamed the 30 scrambled eggs and cleaned the dishes as the firefighters finished up their chores and morning checks and we sat down for breakfast at 0700. The meal was filled with great conversations about life in Guatemala and life in the States, how our fire departments work versus theirs, staple dishes that are firehouse food in Guatemala and in our departments at home, and most importantly what ultimately brought us to Guatemala. Carlos gave us and 5 other firefighters a ride from Station 69 to the Academy where our team has been staying and teaching this week, the route takes about 15 minutes to navigate and is cut up one side of a mountain and down another, a real experience for a Texan! I have some video of the event, which I hope to be able to share, pretty exciting in the bed of a pickup filed with bunker gear and air cylinders!

Once at the Academy firemen and women were pouring in from all over the country, some as far as Antigua. Many exchanges were made, including Mitch and I exchanging our department hats with another Firefighter. Rich gave away two hats and the morning kicked off with grueling scenarios laid out by the B-Team, consisting of Chad, Kevin, Jim and Chase. The firefighters of Guatemala showed determination and will power as they were put to the test, extricating downed firefighters from several sets of circumstances, such as descending stairs to rescue the firefighter by caring them upstairs, a similar drill moving the firefighter downstairs and navigating a maze that was built by the B-Team during the first two days while A-Team was teaching. Pepe (Peh-Peh), the Assistant Chief of the Guatemala Fire Department navigating the maze as I type this, Jeremy is shooting video of that, I am curious as to the outcome! The Guatemala FD provided us with lunch again as they have every day ad it was, again, delicious! Rumor has it that tomorrow’s lunch will be steak, or, beefsteak as they call it. I went grocery shopping with Vera, our interpreter and church representative/guide, while B-team continued their training, tonight we are having Jambalaya, or as close as we can get to it, cooking for ourselves and 5 of the firefighters of Station 69, and I assume Pepe will be there as well.

Dinner was a success; Jambalaya isn’t a new dish, but a hit nonetheless!!! I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted today, but I am so ready for more! The church here, Casa de Libertad, provided us with wireless Internet via an air card which was very generous of them and a breath of fresh air, as we have had very limited contact with you at home. I miss my lovely wife of just 4 months whom I love with all my heart; I will be home before you know it. I have already decided that you would and Vera would be best friends, ha-ha, she is coming to Antigua with us and will be able to help me choose some great purses and dresses for you! And to my immediate family, I miss you mom, dad, Lucas, Logan and Cori!! I am praying constantly, as I have none of my usual crutches to turn to, I am faced with having to rely on God for everything, and he has provided more than I could have hoped for. Tomorrow Clay, Rich, Mitch and I are going to meet our Compassion children that we sponsor and we are all very excited for that! Please pray for our children as they receive gifts from our families, and us that they receive them as a gift of God. I love you ALL and will see you soon. God is GOOD, ALL the time! As Chad Neely would say, this is “all the way live”.

God Bless,

Ross Andrew – Flower Mound Fire Dept.

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