A group of San Francisco firefighters were scheduled to catch an early flight out of San Francisco International Airport this morning for a weeklong trip to Nicaragua to train local firefighters.
Four firefighters affiliated with the department’s Latino group Los Bomberos were footing the bill for the trip to set up training at fire stations in Northern Nicaragua this week, Lt. Lester Lesavoy said less than a day before departing.
Lesavoy and three San Francisco crewmembers are joining a group of fire personnel from Bend, Ore., to conduct swift water training and exercises in the region known for tropical storms, flooding and other disasters.
The group was going to be in the capital city of Managua and other nearby communities.
Lesavoy, who moved from Nicaragua when he was a young boy, said it is shocking to see the work conditions of firefighters in Latin America’s second poorest nation.
“Our equipment will be in dire need,” he said, noting that many of the volunteer emergency crews there respond to disasters wearing jeans and use handkerchiefs to cover their faces.
This trip is a logistical trip to set up a full-scale donation and training excursion to the country in the fall, Lesavoy said.
There will be about 30 firefighters heading to Nicaragua then, and Los Bomberos will spearhead the project.
Upon their return late next week, Lesavoy will be able to create an outline of what is needed for the project and start working with the firefighter union and other organizations to get donations and fundraise.
A U.S. Department of Defense program will help the firefighters deliver the massive amount of donated equipment on Boeing C-17 planes that the Air Force uses to transport humanitarian aid, Lesavoy said.
Equipment, including oxygen tanks and firefighter clothing, that has been donated or deemed unusable by local fire departments because of strict U.S. standards will be brought to fire stations.
During this visit, the small band of firefighters is bringing some basic survival equipment, Lesavoy said.
The firefighters are working with the Emergency Services for Latin America, or ERSLA, to train the Nicaraguans on how to use ropes and learn water safety and rescue, especially in whitewater conditions.
“There’s a lot of groups and projects that go to Third World countries and hand out first-aid kits,” Lesavoy said. “But the way we’re addressing it, we’re giving to the local firefighters so that they can become a role in their community.”
Lesavoy said by the end of the year, “we can empower the local firefighters.”
He said that back in San Francisco many of the department’s roughly 1,500 firefighters and paramedics are excited about the project that aims to help Nicaraguan emergency responders save lives.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News