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From Peru to Kelowna: local fireman trains across borders

Glenn Paley at the Kelowna Fire Hall on Enterprise Way.
April 27, 2013 - 7:27 AM

The Kelowna Fire Department has their training officer Glenn Paley back in action. Paley was out Thursday night fighting house fires in Kelowna, but just over a week ago he was making fire calls in Lima, Peru.

Last Saturday Paley returned from a two-week mission to train Peru's volunteer fire service – the bomberos. He and 12 other firemen from outside of Kelowna organized the Firefighters Without Borders deployment to share skills and equipment with their friends in South America.

“For years they were on the edge of being a third world country, but now are starting to prosper a little bit, they're trying to improve their standards especially when it comes to emergency services,” he says.

This was Paley's fourth year participating in the deployment and says he's always enjoyed the cultural exchange, hospitality and home-cooked Peruvian meals. But the cultural difference comes with some challenges.

Paley says Peruvians will often risk their own safety to save their property.

“They place so much more value on items because most people don't have insurance, they try to save everything at all costs,” he says.

With 10 million people living in Lima, dense traffic poses a serious challenge for emergence response crews.

“People don't pull over for firetrucks there at all, they make no effort to move out of the way.” During one fire call he says their truck was passed by other motorists on the highway.

It was also eye-opening for Paley to see the crews working with such a short water supply. “They'll ask us: how do you fight fires with less water? That's what they want us to teach them," he says. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution. "You need water," he says.

While interpreters helped Paley train spanish-speaking volunteers, some things were still lost in translation.

“I know enough that they think I can speak Spanish,” he says, but admits he struggled to make conversation beyond basic greetings.

The mission also supplies volunteers with second-hand Canadian equipment. Firefighters Without Borders ships the equipment by ocean freighter from Vancouver to South America. The initial idea for the program started with a friendly request.

“One the Peruvian bomberos got a hold of our organization four plus years ago,” he says. Their fire service submitted an application demonstrating a legitimate need for help. Today, Firefighter Without Borders gets a flood of requests for cross-cultural training programs.

“Our Facebook and our web presence is big now, it's not uncommon for firefighters from the Dominican Republic or even Greece to say they need help” he says.

Paley (third from right) during training in Peru. The fire truck is from Merrit, B.C. and was re-painted red for the Bomberos - Peru's national fire service.
Paley (third from right) during training in Peru. The fire truck is from Merrit, B.C. and was re-painted red for the Bomberos - Peru's national fire service.
Image Credit: Glenn Paley, Firefighters Without Borders

To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at jwhittet@infotelnews.ca or call (250)718-0428.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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