Langford’s old fire truck has made it to Mexico and was quickly put to use battling a blaze that involved approximately 500 vehicles and 300 motorcycles at an impound lot in Cabo San Lucas.
The fire happened earlier this month, just after a team of Langford firefighters finished training with their Mexican counterparts. As part of Langford Fire Rescue’s ambassador program, four firefighters officially made the trip and were joined by Fire Chief Bob Beckett, Langford Mayor Stew Young and another firefighter, who each made the trip with their families.
“So there was quite a collection,” Beckett said with a laugh.
The engine was decommissioned by the local department after roughly 25 years in operation. Langford council agreed to donate it and the Cabo department was one of the first that came to mind because of their connection through Langford’s ambassador program.
“It was late getting across the border, we had some challenges,” Beckett noted, but once the truck did arrive it was put to good use. “The firefighters really appreciate the truck … This is a very small composite department doing it basically on the backs of donations.”
Our first photo of Langford's retired engine with Chief Juan and some of his firefighters. They are extremely pleased with the new addition. pic.twitter.com/nJWXzfacCi
— Langford Fire Rescue (@LangfordFire) April 27, 2017
The Cabo department, mostly made up of volunteers, serves a population of roughly 400,000, Beckett added. “They do 4,000 calls a year; they’re very busy and it’s just about service … It’s just an amazing perspective.”
As Beckett told the story, Fire Chief Juan Antonio Carbajal Figueroa’s inspiration to get into firefighting started after being exposed to a fire at just six years of age. Chief Juan, as the Canadians call him, would ask to be trained at the local department every year while growing up, but they wouldn’t take him until he turned 19. When he was 16, a call came in for a horrendous structure fire that claimed the lives of two children. Juan believed he could have made a difference at that fire had he been trained. “It just fuelled his desire to become a member of the department,” Beckett said.
Today, Chief Juan has a program for children age six to 18 to get them involved in fire service. Roughly 100 children meet every Saturday to train in one of three streams that include search and rescue, lifeguarding and fire protection. “It’s like a cadet program, it’s absolutely amazing,” Beckett said, adding these children are a valuable resource in the community with their specialized training.
The Mexican department’s connection and service to the local community is something that leaves their Langford counterparts in awe. “There’s lots to learn, especially because of who this individual is … Even at my stage in my career, I consider him a mentor,” Beckett said.
Langford Assistant Chief Geoff Spriggs added the ambassador program isn’t just about technical training. “There’s a lot more depth there, you learn a lot more than just firefighting … The relationships that are being built are things we can follow up on,” he said.
It’s also about seeing the bigger picture.
“A typical Canadian tourist wouldn’t see the other 95 per cent (of Cabo). This is a way of seeing that and personalizing it,” Spriggs said. “Getting families involved strengthens their connection with the department back home. That creates tolerances and understanding and it’s another way to participate in another community … We don’t have to use (what we learn) internationally, we can use it two communities over.”
While Spriggs had to be in Prince George during this trip, his wife, Sarah Vardy – she’s part of the Langford department’s critical incident stress management team – flew to Cabo from Europe to do some parallel programming. She worked with some of the other family members on community outreach programs that took them from orphanages, to community kitchens that feed hungry children, to conducting stress management workshops with local firefighters.
“The Chief in Cabo is such an inspiration … he never stops, he never gives up,” Vardy said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ll take with me is his sense of community.”
She also heard that Chief Juan was a big fan of opera, and as a professional opera singer, she put on a fundraising concert in Mexico that drew approximately 150 people.
Despite it being her third trip down, she noted, “I always feel like I leave a little piece of me behind, but I bring a piece with me back to Langford … I love it.”