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El Salvador Battles Rash of Fires with Help from SOUTHCOM Equipment and Training

By Dialogo
June 02, 2016

El Salvador's Armed Forces (FAES) Humanitarian Rescue Unit (URH) and the Firefighter Corps (CBES) have been fighting a rash of fires in recent weeks that have occurred as a result of the country's dry season, when temperatures are high and humidity is low. Authorities have responded effectively to the blazes, thanks in part to training and equipment provided by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)

The FAES-URH, whose primary mission is to save and protect victims of disasters, have focused their efforts on identifying victims from the air and supporting firefighters with specialized air units. “Our Humanitarian Rescue Unit has been trained and outfitted by SOUTHCOM, and that’s why we are now prepared to handle disasters like volcanic eruptions, floods or fires,” explained Major General Félix Núñez, chairman of the FAES Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In one recent fire, service members were called into action on April 12th during a forest fire in the neighborhood of Piedra Grande, in the municipality of Zacatecoluca. Specialized Troops supported efforts to extinguish the fire using UH-1H helicopters equipped with rescue cranes to assist victims, and “Bambi Buckets” to bring water from Ilopango Lake.

Resources and personnel

“SOUTHCOM always provides us with resources and personnel to improve our skills with new knowledge in different subjects," added Colonel José León, executive director of the FAES Military Aeronautics Instruction Center. "We hope to continue receiving this support so our troops can continue to expand their ability to help the civilian population.”

UHR has 250 service members specialized in search and rescue, dealing with collapsed buildings, medical aid, security at shelters, and supply logistics, Maj. Gen. Núñez said, adding that the CBES has improved its capabilities thanks to the specialized, modern firefighting equipment, tools, and accessories they received last year from SOUTHCOM.

“We are eternally grateful to SOUTHCOM for their cooperation in providing such a significant volume of completely new equipment, tools, and accessories," said Fire Department Major José Joaquín Parada, CBES's director. "This has allowed us to be more effective in responding to disasters."

This was visible on May 21st, when a fire consumed the second floor of the Correspondence Room of El Salvador's main post office. To control the fire, they had to force open windows and doors with hydraulic cutting and expansion tools that were donated by SOUTHCOM, allowing the 11 firefighters to prevent the fire from spreading.

"There is no doubt that fighting fires is a dangerous job, and we need special equipment to confront this challenge and join in the work of saving our people’s lives and property," Maj. Parada said.

El Salvador's weather over the last few weeks will keep CBES on high alert, but the Central American nation's firefighters are now better equipped to extinguish fires.

“In the last few days, we have responded to an average of 10-20 emergencies every day," explained Fire Department Sergeant Douglas Rosales, a CBES active service officer, after completing the work of extinguishing the fire at the post office. "Having the proper equipment so our firefighters can respond more rapidly to extinguish a blaze is one of the factors that helps us save many lives."