Colorado firefighters share skills with Colombia

By Gary Massaro
Rocky Mountain News (Denver)
Copyright 2006 Denver Publishing Company 

AURORA, Colo. — Mike Stanley and Dave Gibbs took a working vacation in the Deep South - South America.

Stanley and Gibbs went to Jamundi, Colombia, near Cali, Oct. 7 to 17.

In their paying jobs, Stanley is a captain in the Aurora Fire Department, Gibbs a firefighter.

But they're also volunteers with Outreach Emergency Services Program, a nonprofit that sends equipment and trainers to other fire departments to help firefighters upgrade their skills.

Last year, OESP sent a fire truck from Seattle to Jamundi. This year, the organization donated about 400 pounds of medical and firefighting equipment, Stanley said.

"That's part of the mission, to bring them equipment and train them how to use it as well," Stanley said.

Gibbs and Stanley taught about 100 Colombian volunteers.

"Some drove up to 25 hours across the country to be there for the class," Stanley said. "It's pretty much a national event."

Neither Stanley nor Gibbs speaks Spanish. So they relied on interpreters. It was difficult in both languages because of the technical terms.

"Worst case, last year: An interpreter got sick, and we tried to teach some of the class without an interpreter," Stanley said. "We tried to show instead of talk."

This year, the Aurora twosome instructed volunteers on search-and- rescue techniques. The volunteers had built an obstacle course for practice purposes.

Gibbs and Stanley also taught their Colombian counterparts how to free car-wreck victims trapped in vehicles.

"They're using hacksaws and jacks," Stanley said. "They're probably 30 years out of date for what we'd use here."

But don't think its totally primitive, either.

"I got an e-mail today from one of our students," Stanley said Monday. "He said there was a house fire this weekend. And they used some of the techniques we taught them to save a few lives."

Stanley and Gibbs were in the same place, doing the same thing last year.

It must be growing on them.

"We plan to be back the same time next year as well," Stanley said.

The people treated Stanley and Gibbs to meals in restaurants and tours of the area.

For Stanley, being a firefighter is a childhood dream come true.

"My parents took me on a tour of the fire house in Westminster, where I grew up," he said. "They went out on a call when I was there — lights, sirens, horns honking. And I said, 'That's for me.' "

He said volunteering with OESP is a natural for him and for Gibbs.

"The fire service has been very rewarding to both of us," Stanley said. "We're just trying to share the good things that we have."

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