The Guatemala Connection: Back Again

David Pease

The door was opened for what we hoped would be future trips. Everyone came back excited beyond belief. We were not accustomed to being treated like celebrities; we were just “good ole boys” from the south. Most of the guys wanted to go back, so I started the plans for the next trip down. My first concern was to lock down who wanted and could go. The other kicker was, we had to pay for our flights. Once we got there, they would pick us up from the airport and shuttle us to the army base. A short trip in distance but a long trip with traffic. I selected a tentative date and put the word out. Soon I had enough to start the planning phase of the trip; even though we lost a couple, we gained a couple as well. I was able to put together eleven folks that were able to go and cover their ticket cost.

The first trip, we only trained the Guatemalan military rescue unit, known as UHR. This stands for Unidad Humanitaria Y De Rescate, which in English means Humanitarian and Rescue Unit. This trip, I wanted to include some of the Guatemalan firefighters known as bomberos. We were also able to include some of their CONRED folks who are similar to our FEMA teams; only they are not tied to a fire department. I put the cap on the number of students we could manage and then leave it up to the coordination of Paramedics for Children and Silvana Ayuso. They then go through a selection process as to who comes to the class. The military folks are no problem, as they are stationed at the army base where we are staying at and teaching. The firefighters may come from far away and have to drive eight hours or more to get to the class. Working with the military folks, Sylvana was able to secure approval for the firefighters to stay on the base. We were staying in one of the UHR barracks that did have showers and bathrooms. 

Once I secured the instructors and time frame to go down, I worked on booking the tickets. I also do the planning on what we are going to teach that week, so plans can be made for the logistics needed there. After the first trip down, it was easy to see that classes needed to be all hands-on and no classroom. Trying to do classroom and utilizing interpreters would cut way down on any practical work we wanted to do. We already learned that if we can cover it here in one day, it was going to take two days there due to the language barrier. It is much easier to show folks something and then have them do it. They are awesome at picking up on things showed to them. They have such an impressive drive to learn, something we do not see here near as much. The tickets are now booked, and we are getting set for our second trip. The instructors are assigned their subjects and groups so they can plan how and what they want to cover. They get together and plan out their course of action. We also got everyone jumpsuits for any formal presentations and gatherings. Time to hit the air.

This flight was a bit more uneventful than the first one. Everything went well at the airport leaving out. As we arrived, the military was there to greet us and look after us. We still remained under fairly close guard from the airport there until our departure. We checked through with little difficulty since it was being handled by Sylvana and the military. They loaded us up in the military truck, and off we went to the base to settle in. Luckily, this was our second trip and stay there, so we were a bit familiar with things. We spend Saturday afternoon chilling out and looking around the base for the locations we will use for our classes. This trip, we are doing firefighting training, horizontal rope systems, vehicle stabilization and extrication, and helicopter operations, and short-haul rescue. Sometimes training locations can be critical when it comes to logistics and planning.  We have found that vehicles can be hard to come by for practice and evolutions. Also, the rescue equipment was extremely limited for the training. Our instructors must be patient and creative. This is a requirement we have for taking folks down, to adapt and overcome. It is not like teaching here in that you do not have the resources to call on at a minute’s notice. If an Instructor can not adapt to this environment and work on their time schedule of learning, they don’t go. It is a hard decision to have to make, but it is what it takes to teach down there. 

We did our reconnaissance and found the best locations for all the classes. This time we were training about 45 of their folks. Sunday allowed for more planning and insight into what we had to work with. The firefighters would stay in their group and do fire training the entire week. They located some decent spots for this, considering it was a small army base built in the 40s & 50s. The folks doing rope and vehicle would rotate after two days, and helicopter operations also did not rotate. This group was primarily military rescue personnel. The groundwork and plans were now laid out for the training to begin on Monday. We felt fairly good about things. 

Monday morning, we headed to the mess hall to eat true Guatemalan food and then get ready for classes to begin. This was going to entail a morning ceremony that we had not planned on and would cut into our training time. But do you know what? We are on Guatemalan time, so we learn to adapt. We went back and put on our jumpsuits and went down to the courtyard for the “opening” ceremony. It was a very nice gathering and had some high-ranking military personnel there to speak and greet us. They even had a band to play our national anthem and the Guatemalan national anthem. Once the ceremony was over, it was time to get to work.

If you are interested in helping in this worthwhile mission, email me at reds100@aol.com

David Pease, Chief The REDS Team

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