Mexican firefighters learn hands-on in bomberos program

April 05, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — Though sunlight brightens the surrounding farmland, inside the small country house east of here all is eerily dark and silent.

Pink paint once covering the walls of the front room is now dingy and gray, blackened by flames. Bed springs and a metal frame look skeletal in a back bedroom, flames having licked away the bed linens and mattress padding.

Brawley Fire Chief Frank Contreras points to a toaster in the house's kitchen and the burn patterns extending up from it on the wall and cabinetry as he explains how this house has served as an important training site for Mexican firefighters this week.

Instructors from the annual bombero training program, named for the Spanish word for firefighter, set individual fires in this abandoned house to teach the Mexican firefighters, among other things, how to investigate and preserve a fire scene.


"Some know this stuff already, some don't," Contreras said of the bomberos attending the weeklong training.

The program, organized by the Imperial Valley Fire Chiefs' Association and the Mexican Fire Chiefs' Association, uses volunteer instructors and equipment from several agencies, both local and from San Diego, Yuma and Mexico.

Organizers seek to provide bomberos with training in San Diego and the Imperial Valley that they may not have access to in Mexico.

Attending the program for the second straight year, Ara Jahen Bejar Moreno, 25, of Morelos said the U.S. has technology and research about fire science that Mexico doesn't.

"I think it's a great opportunity to learn," Moreno said.

Praising the program, Yuma Fire Department Capt. Daniel Padilla said bomberos often work in high-risk situations with little education.

To gain that education, students attended both classroom presentations and field exercises including a live burn on Tuesday and Wednesday's investigation of the country house.

Starting in 1962 as an exchange between the Imperial Valley and Mexicali, the program has grown to involve more agencies in its training, Contreras said.

"They (the bomberos) go back with a lot of updated tactics in firefighting and knowledge of tools," Contreras said.

The program changes its offerings from year to year, Contreras said.

"Fire technology changes a lot," he said.

Instruction can focus on structure fires, brush fires and rescues, among other things, depending on what organizers can arrange, Contreras said.

"A lot of this couldn't be done without the support of the local community," Contreras said, thanking the farmer who donated the abandoned house for burning.

Fire departments from Brawley, Imperial County, El Centro, Holtville, Calexico, Centinela and Calipatria state prisons, Yuma and San Diego lent support in the form of equipment or instructors, Contreras said. Gold Cross Ambulance Service kept an ambulance on hand during potentially dangerous exercises.

Today the bomberos finish their week with a free day in San Diego before their final banquet and awarding of certificates of completion.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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