Bomberos in Guatemala
Imagine that you are not paid to do your job. You are a volunteer.
(Perhaps some of us already do this, and imagining is not so difficult…)
Imagine next that the work you do puts you in danger every day.
(For those in law enforcement, safety, military, etc., perhaps this is already your reality.)
Now imagine that YOU are responsible for raising the funds that allow you to PERFORM your job!
If you have gotten this far and have been able to imagine all three, you must be a bombero in Guatemala! A bombero is a firefighter. To be a bombero, you are often asked to perform the duties of a firefighter, EMT, paramedic, midwife, nurse all in one! And, sometimes you are even called after a natural disaster, not at all uncommon, like an earthquake, mudslide, or volcano eruption!
Most bomberos in Guatemala are volunteer. The stations/departments are very minimally funded by the government and operate on a shoestring budget. Their inventory is extremely limited — to the point where they sometimes have to reuse single-use first aid supplies.
And, to make matters worse, they have to stand in the median of busy roads with a coin bucket hoping that people donate to their cause. They rely on these donations to sustain themselves and restock the supplies closet so that they can do their jobs.
What dedication! What bravery!
Since the early days of our nonprofit, and even before, the directors of Guatemala Service Projects have donated medical supplies each time we visit Guatemala. Sometimes they are directed to a medical clinic (like the time the local girl scout troop helped us provide an ultrasound machine!) but usually they end up with the bomberos. We’ve taken oxygen cannulas, bandages, gauze, examination gloves, ointments, etc., and most recently took cervical collars, syringes and other supplies donated by the Jefferson Fire Department and Divine Savior Hospital from Wisconsin.
Based on a suggestion from John Uebelacker, a member of our last travel team, one idea for a project we could implement which would save the bomberos time and money would be to set up a cascade system.
During our trip, we had the opportunity to visit with the bomberos from Los Encuentros. They had recently been gifted with both a fire truck and an ambulance but talked about how frequently they had to refill canisters and how few supplies they had. They appreciated the donations that we dropped off and especially liked the c collars!
Next year, we plan to pay a visit to the bomberos in San Bartolomé Milpas Altas. Abner Santander (brother of Iris Santander at the Backyard School) is a bombero there and has shared some stories, photos, and needs with us — hopeful that we can lend some support, even if it is just with basic first aid supplies like bandages and ointments.
We would welcome any physical or monetary donations in support of the bomberos!
In words and pictures, allow me to introduce to you the bomberos of San Bartolomé Milpas Altas:
Abner tells me that there are four permanent bomberos that man that station and there are six that show up when they have time. The four that are permanent are ages 45, 43, 39 and 29 — thankfully no children, although it is not uncommon to have 14-16 year old kids volunteering with the bomberos!
They have a rescue pickup truck and an ambulance, but no fire truck. They have one fire extinguisher in each of their two vehicles, and two more at the station. When there is a larger fire, they have to call other stations for help and the response time is roughly 20-30 minutes.
They field an average of 68 calls per week and handle evacuations, illnesses, accidents, births, etc.
Their station opened in 2012 and once per year that have received a little basic support from the government. Otherwise, they ask for loose change from passersby.
They have need for both first aid supplies as well as firefighting equipment.