By Regina Elling
When firefighters from Intermountain Fire and Rescue Department in Ramona arrived at a recent scene, what they found was not quite what they were expecting.
The men were in Ensenada, Baja California, on a three-day training mission. They were prepared to teach their fellow firefighters some of the training that, as volunteers, they had almost come to take for granted in the United States.
But as they looked out over the training grounds, they were more than a little surprised.
“There were four of us; there were 200 of them. It was an ocean of firefighters,” said Jorge Hernandez, one of the Intermountain volunteers who made the trek.
No one can say that the volunteers haven’t been through trials by fire, and they viewed the experience as a way to not only teach others, but to improve their own skills.
“When we got there, we expected a crowd. But there were between 30 and 50 departments that showed up,” said Jesus Carbajal of Intermountain. “They invited all the rural firefighting departments in Baja to this training. One guy drove three days to receive two days worth of training—that’s how important this was to them.”
“In Baja, all the knowledge is traditionally passed down by word of mouth,” added Hernandez. “Having formal training—and learning the newest techniques—was a very big deal.”
In addition to Hernandez and Carbajal, Austin Mann and Drew Loftis participated, all having the blessing of their home station for the event. Two cadets in training with Hernandez—Adan Topete and Eric Jimenez—assisted as student translators and instructors as well.
Seeing more than 200 eager learners in front of them, the men wasted no time in getting to the lessons.
“The first day we set equipment up at the site. The next day was structural firefighting, use of ladders, search and rescue, self rescue, patient rescue and hooking up supply lines,” said Carbajal. “The third day was spent on wildland firefighting. For example, structural gear is extremely heavy, very taxing on the body, and it is very easy to overheat while wearing it. But because of their lack of equipment, they didn’t know there was differences in the equipment.“
As if unexpectedly facing the sea of students wasn’t enough of a hotspot for the men, there were still everyday calls that had to be answered.
“We responded to a medical aid (a heart attack), a structural fire and a vegetative fire, all right in the middle of class,” says Hernandez. “Once we finished the emergency calls, we were able to use the incidents as classroom examples.”
Although the collaboration came about quite casually, it has resulted in life-changing experiences for everyone involved.
“From time to time, for the past few years, a couple of our guys would visit and ride with the
guys from Baja on their engines, nothing formal,” said Hernandez. “As the friendship developed, it became obvious that training is a big part of what we do, but is not so common there. Eventually, they asked us if we could provide some training for them.
“These are not wealthy areas. They lack equipment, lack formal structure and lack trained instructors. They need everything and appreciate all of it.”
For Intermountain, the effort was huge. “The logistics of getting there, the time and the resources all made this a huge event to pull together,” Hernandez said.
The event benefited both sides in multiple ways. While in Baja, the Intermountain crew received a joint commendation from each fire department chief and the mayor in recognition of their efforts.
Intermountain staff will return to Baja in July to continue the training. The firefighters also plan to donate some of their out-of-service equipment to their firefighting brethren.
“This opportunity allows us to expand our knowledge, as well as seeing firsthand the struggles less fortunate agencies deal with in their daily duties,” said Intermountain Chief Jeremy Christofferson. “Sharing our experiences with others is our way of paying forward what we are fortunate to have. I am very proud of the firefighters that participated in this, and we look forward to a prosperous relationship with the Ensenada Bomberos.”
“Everyone there was so very humble and grateful for our efforts, it really has been one of the best experiences of my life,” said Carbajal. “One of the best ways to retain a skill is to teach it to others, and sharing these skills makes all of us better, especially as we do our jobs here at home.”