Breckenridge area firefighters travel to Honduras to offer training and gear to first responders
May 14, 2018
A group of local first responders recently spent a week in Honduras training and equipping firefighters, part of an increasingly robust partnership between one of Summit's two fire districts and its counterparts in the mountains of Central America.
Five firefighters from the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District made the journey to Santa Barbara, Honduras, a follow-up to another trip last year when firefighter/EMTs from the district trained paramedics and donated an ambulance to a remote community that had been struggling to get emergency patients to care quickly.
"They are understaffed and underequipped," said Maggie Ducayet, whose nonprofit, Summit in Honduras, has been making trips to the country for more than 12 years.
Ducayet joined the firefighters on the latest trip, along with two of her Summit in Honduras cohorts.
"I think it really empowered them," she said of the Honduran firefighters, many of whom are either underpaid or volunteer their services. "Some really great friendships were built."
The itinerary included three days of training firefighters, a visit to an orphanage and a day of sightseeing. During the training, RWB personnel taught rappelling techniques, search and rescue strategies for smoked-out buildings and forcible entry.
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At the orphanage, meanwhile, the emphasis was on wildfire safety and basic structure protection, which was especially timely given the recent weather in Honduras. The country hasn't seen significant rainfall since January, and the landscape has become a tinderbox.
"It was just bone dry, and there were wildfires popping up everywhere on these mountain hillsides," said Drew Hoehn, an RWB battalion commander.
Tragically, two Honduran firefighters were killed battling fires elsewhere in the country during the trip, Hoehn said. Several of the leaders at the Santa Barbara firehouse that hosted the Summit contingent were friends of the deceased, casting a pall over the last of the trip.
"It was a really somber day," Hoehn said. "It was a tangible example of why we wanted to be there to train with them, because they don't have all of the same modern tactics and safety techniques in place that we do."
For most of the trip, however, the mood was joyous. Hoehn said the Hondurans made an elaborate ceremony of RWB's arrival, presenting gifts and making speech after speech. The Summit firefighters reciprocated with some gear of their own, and they'll be sending more decommissioned equipment down later this year.
"It's a great opportunity when we're looking to replace gear, because a lot of it is really valuable and useful down there," Hoehn said.
Much of the equipment the Hondurans use is donated from other jurisdictions across the world. At the station Hoehn and company visited, there were vehicles from Japan, Canada and Massachusetts. All of them were decades old, but the local firefighters took pride in maintaining them.
"They demonstrated a lot of pride in their organization, which we really respect," Hoehn said. "They were really eager for information and training, so that's something we hope to expand on in the future."
Summit in Honduras and RWB expect to make another trip to the country within the next year or so, possible with more equipment and maybe even an old vehicle in tow. In some ways, however, the gear is secondary.
"It's not about stuff," Hoehn said. "It's about relationships and experiences, and that's something I try to teach my kids."
At the orphanage, where abandoned children are rescued from the streets and given a second chance, the firefighters taught the kids some basic ways to be fire-wise and conducted an informal building safety inspection for the adults.
After two trips, the children recognize the Red, White and Blue Fire logo. One girl in particular remembered Hoehn from his last trip, when he coined her a new nickname.
"She gave me this huge smile, and she was really excited," he said. "You definitely make a lot of connections down there. It's a moving experience."
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