Mexican firefighters find special skills in Surprise

by Lily Leung – Jul. 10, 2008 08:58 AM
The Arizona Republic

Comparisons came up frequently among three Mexican firefighters in the 120 hours of training in Surprise last week, during the days leading up to Independence Day weekend.

In Surprise, the Fire Department has paramedics handle calls for emergency medical services.

In the resort town of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico – also known as Rocky Point – the Red Cross handles them, while its firefighters tend solely to fire, bee-removal and vehicle-accident calls.

Here in Surprise, firefighters focus on saving victims first before concentrating on battling the blazes.

In Mexico, it’s the reverse.

But the structural difference that most fascinated the trio from Puerto Peñasco was the fluid collaboration between police and fire, they said.

While out on calls with Surprise crews, they noticed that firefighters here roll out of their stations with strict efficiency, and once on scene, they tend to the victims – administering drugs and interviewing victims – while police manage and secure the scene.

“I liked the coordination between police and fire here,” said Armando Flores Oropeza, one of the three Rocky Point visitors. “In Puerto Peñasco, we lack that communication between us, the police and the Red Cross.”

“Here, they’re more disciplined, more forward . . . and they depend more on book knowledge,” chimed in fellow firefighter Alex Chavez Acuña.

Jose Cruz, the third member, added: “Everything’s different. Above all, there’s just more resources here.”

Oropeza, Acuña and Cruz arrived to Fire Station 303 in Surprise on July 1, starting their training with a ride on 115-foot laddertruck, a piece of equipment Rocky Point lacks. That followed with training on the hazardous-materials truck.

Things got physical the following day at Station 301, located behind Surprise City Hall. The trio, led by Surprise firefighter-paramedic Martin Navarrete, got a sense of a real fire in the “fire blaster,” a steel container that simulates a real fire and is used to instruct trainees on fire behavior.

They got a refresher course on the blaster on July 3 at the Glendale Regional Public Safety Training Center, where they also got a lesson on firefighter safety and what to do when a firefighter is down.

“We taught them how to search each room and be more efficient in the search,” Navarrete said.

Fourth of July, their final day of training, was spent learning EMS skills and command structure, an important lesson given that the three serve as fire captains back home.

They learned how captains should organize tactical deployments and figure out the best and safest strategies for their crews. Surprise trainers focused also on how to handle calls at high-rise buildings. Navarrete estimated there are at least a dozen in the resort town.

“They don’t have a theory or idea of an attack strategy or how to rescue a patient from a high rise, so we covered that with them,” Navarrete said.

Whether here or there, us or them, the three from Rocky Point held a huddle to regurgitate, organize and prioritize everything they learned in Surprise.

The top three improvements on their list, they said, include: command structure, safety and incident management.

Next: A group of firefighter/paramedics from Surprise is in Puerto Peñasco this weekend to train the town’s firefighters in EMS and hold a free clinic for the community.

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