Local firefighters make trek to Mexico

Call it the running of the firefighters.

Help provide training for

emergencies

Call it the running of the firefighters.

The sight each morning of nearly three dozen local and visiting firefighters jogging through the streets of a Mexican city definitely caught the attention of residents.

“It’s not something you see in a mountainous town in Mexico,” said Kent firefighter Kyle Ohashi, who was part of those runs. “It was good advertising for the firefighters. It told the people we were doing this to better the quality of life in their town.”

Ohashi, Kevin O’Keefe and Battalion Chief Paul Wright represented the Kent Fire Department as part of a group of seven who traveled from Washington to Mexico for two weeks in late February and early March to help the residents of Ayutia, a city of 7,000, learn basic firefighting and emergency medical procedures.

TapFire, a nonprofit Bremerton-based organization started by Wright more than three years ago, arranged the trip to

Ayutia along with Firefighters Crossing Borders of Gig Harbor.

Jose Lopez, a former Ayutia resident who now lives in Gig Harbor, also helped organize the trip to help his home city after he witnessed a vehicle crash a couple of years ago in Ayutia where there are no emergency services to respond to those who are injured. Lopez served as an interpreter for the firefighters on the mission.

Wright headed a similar trip in 2006 to the city of El Grullo, about 45 minutes from Ayutia, that led to El Grullo setting up its first fire department. The city of 25,000 has five paid firefighters because of the training and equipment provided two years ago by TapFire.

In fact, the Kent and Gig Harbor groups returned last month to El Grullo, a sister city of Kent, to train firefighters from Ayutia, partly because a fire truck and equipment donated by TapFire to Ayutia had yet to arrive. The U.S. Air Force agreed with TapFire to ship the equipment to Mexico for free, but had yet to work the delivery into its schedule.

More than 30 people showed up for training over the nine days. Twenty-three people graduated, which meant they participated in training each day and were dedicated to making a difference in their community, Ohashi said. The residents took time away from their normal lives to participate in the drills.

The training started each morning with exercises and a jog through town before getting into specific drills. Those drills included how to properly use hoses to fight fires, ladders and ropes to rescue people and tools to access people trapped in cars. Wright taught firefighting tactics, such as which walls of a building to defend first to keep a fire from spreading.

“But we did not teach just firefighting skills,” Wright said. “It was also to get the community to look at safety issues, such as teaching stop, drop and roll (a well-known mantra of what to do when on fire) to students at schools.”

The Kent firefighters used their vacation time and their own money to pay for the trip. They also pitched in to buy beds for the El Grullo fire station when they saw firefighters were simply sleeping on mattresses on the floor. City officials from Ayutia provided hotel rooms for the TapFire group.

“They are very, very excited and grateful,” Wright said of the reception in Ayutia and El Grullo. “One man who trained with us two years ago saw us running through town, got his gear from home and showed up again for training.”

Ohashi, who also helped train residents in El Grullo two years ago, enjoyed seeing the results of that mission.

“At least six of the 19 people we trained last time are paid firefighters somewhere,” Ohashi said. “Most people work in the cane fields or some type of agriculture, so there’s a lot of prestige for them to wear a (firefighter) uniform and help the community at large.”

Wright enjoyed returning to El Grullo to see the city funding a fire department.

“The city embraced a fire department with five paid people,” Wright said. “That’s a commitment to the community. You hope for that.”

For more information or to donate funds to TapFire, go to www.tapfire.org.

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.

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