Everybody Loves a Bombero

Car Fire BannerI came upon this story through my editor at panama.escapeartist.com for whom I occasionally write. In a previous stage of life I was a professional firefighter, so I was immediately drawn to the story. My appreciation for Boquete, Panama, and for the fire service inspires me to share this story with you.

Boquete Bomberos to Host Canadian Firefighters

The Bomberos (firefighters) of Boquete are hosting a cultural and training exchange between the fire departments of Boquete, Panama, and Sooke, British Columbia. Currently, five or six volunteers with the Sooke Fire Rescue Service plan to travel to Panama for five days of joint training exercises. The training is scheduled for March, 2013, which is near the end of Panama’s dry season when brush fires pose the greatest threat to grazing land, forests, coffee plantations, and private homes.

Among the things that connect the firefighters of Canada and Panama is the commitment of service to the community. These are men and women who frequently put themselves in harm’s way to protect property and save lives. They commit to long hours of training, both to stay current in their skills and to stay physically fit to face the rigors of their profession. In this respect, the firefighters of these and other countries have a common bond.

While field training may span five days, another feature of this exchange is the opportunity to experience another culture. Most of the Sooke firefighters plan to stay in Boquete for at least a week beyond the training. None of the Canadians have met their Panamanian counterparts. They look forward to taking the bomberos and their wives out to dinner at some point so they can get to know one another off the job. One Sooke volunteer, Ben Temple says, “Fortunately, I minored in Hispanic Studies in college and I have traveled quite a bit in Latin America. I think my Spanish-speaking skills are adequate to overcome any language barriers. We all look forward to making new friends and experiencing life in Panama. This is a big deal for us!”

Firefighter Temple says, "This was a drill fire and our training session was finished. In general, when houses are on fire, we're busy putting them out."

Firefighter Temple says, “This was a drill fire. Our training session was finished and the owner wanted the house burned down. In general, when houses are on fire, we’re busy putting them out.”

The planned exchange between the Canadians and Panamanians traces back to an international connection between Rotary Clubs. During a Rotary exchange project in Panama, a conversation between club members led to the idea of fire departments sharing their best practices with one another. Back home on Vancouver Island, Sooke Rotarian Dave Bennett shared this idea with the Sooke Fire Chief, Steve Sorensen. Since then the idea has taken hold, and several volunteers have stepped forward to participate in the Panama exchange. Temple says, “Our respective departments are similar in size, and we have similar challenges. By comparing our expertise with that of the bomberos, we will determine how to structure our training to best benefit both departments.”

The Cost Factor 

The Sooke Fire Department might have more equipment and supplies in reserve than their Boquete counterparts. In that case, Chief Sorensen has identified equipment his department is willing to make available for donation. The cost of shipping is expensive as is the cost to the individuals who must take time away from jobs and family to participate in this training and cultural exchange. Transportation costs alone are expected to be $1,500 – $2,000 per person. With shipping of equipment the total cost of this trip is estimated to be $15,000 with $3,500 raised so far.

In order to cover these costs, the Sooke Fire Rescue Service is pursuing several avenues for financial support. They have held a car wash and solicited donations from local businesses. Firefighter Temple says, “We are all prepared to pay our fair share, but contributions will help ensure we are able to see this project through.”

An online donation website has also been set up to accept your donations. Autographed Sooke Firefighter posters and Sooke Fire Department logo T-shirts are provided to donors. Please consider a donation.

Note: If you are aware of a special project or an idea that will benefit the people of Panama and you would like me to write about it, contact me via email: mike.lince@hotmail.com.

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