How many Chilean firefighters does it take to put out a fire in Houston? 13. That's how many of the "Santiago Bomberos" came to train with the Houston Fire Department at the Val Jenke Training Facility.
They are here this week to get some hands-on experience fighting high-rise fires. Chile has several high-rise buildings and more seem to be going up every day. "We've got all the materials," explained Sergio Selman with the Santiago Bomberos, "but we need the knowledge of the Houston Fire Department on the high-rise buildings."
Houston Fire Department Captain Juan Guerrero said the HFD worked hard to make this program successful, "We have bilingual instructors here that are able to communicate. We are able to teach them in their own language which makes it a lot better for them."
"Their gear is a little thinner than our gear," explained HFD Capt. Juan Garcia about the difference in their fire jackets. "If we see any gear catching on fire, then we're just gonna call it and bring them out (of the simulator)... we're not trying to burn them." Thank heavens for that!
Nobody caught fire during training Wednesday, but one guy did scramble out when he overheated. How do you translate, "if you can't stand the heat, stay outta the simulator?"
Chilean firefighter Sergio Selman said the biggest difference between their force and HFD is not in how they fight fires: "The first difference is we (in Chile) are all volunteers. Everyone here has another job, and we've been taking off a week from those jobs to be here."
This inter-cultural training has had special meaning for Houston fireman Tyler Graf. He was adopted from Chile as a small child but has never been back.
"The family I have now is the family I've always known, but there's always been that little part missing," Graf said. "So now I get the chance to meet some other people from Chile, and they tell me all about it. I really wish to go some day."
You can bet the Santiago firefighters will show him a 'hot time' when he gets there!