Honduran Armed Forces, Firefighters Participate in Rescue Training

Honduran Armed Forces, Firefighters Participate in Rescue Training

By Dialogo
July 23, 2015

Honduran firefighters and members of the Armed Forces Humanitarian Rescue Unit (UHR) were recently joined by two Salvadoran and two Nicaraguan Soldiers in exercises to free those trapped in confined spaces or demolished buildings during natural disasters.

A team of 28 specialists from the Honduran Fire Department participated with the Troops and other emergency response workers during the 214-hour course at the Honduran Army Technical School facilities and at Fire Station No. 4 in the city of El Carrizal from April 26 through the end of June.

“The primary goal of this course was to speak the same language for every type of disaster -- for each of the countries involved in the lifesaving, rescue, and evaluation efforts to be on the same page,” said Colonel José Manuel Zelaya, deputy commanding officer for the Honduran Fire Department. “We all need to recognize the techniques for recoveries, how to do interventions, and how to work as a team or as relief.”

Search and rescue strategies

Service members who participated in the course were trained in using strategies for searching and locating victims and rescuing them with manual, hydraulic, and pneumatic tools.

In the first of five steps, they focused on administering first aid, including controlling hemorrhages and treating wounds, burns, and sudden illnesses, as well as performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Then, participants studied the incident command system, which responders use to manage resources during emergencies.

“The second block [of training] was certified by the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA),” said Captain Lenin López, director of the National Firefighters School.

After that, participants completed the Collapsed Light Structure Rescue Course (CRECL), which is used to train participants in the skills and techniques they’ll need to locate surface-level victims in the event of a fallen structure. The fourth stage was more advanced, as the students’ attention shifts to Search and Rescue in Collapsed Structures (BREC) -- the task of penetrating fallen structures in accordance with international standards. Finally, the last stage focused on Rescues in Confined Spaces (REC), which is for 72-hour response teams who use tools to work in small areas that are difficult to access.

Teamwork and skills

The training strengthened teamwork among the Troops and other emergency workers. Afterwards, the Honduran Defense Ministry said that participants “have developed a set of skills necessary to rescue people in natural disasters when they are trapped by debris or in automobile accidents.”

“This is the first training that we have had at this level, the full range,” Colonel Zelaya said. “The rescue course achieved its goal. The UHR now has more human resources who are qualified and know the logistics necessary to deal with national, regional, and international emergency situations.”

The UHR is a highly-trained unit dedicated to humanitarian aid operations and conducts domestic and international rescue missions during natural disasters, often working with the Red Cross, Green Cross, and other fire departments.

Training to protect civilians from the dangers of climate change

Because of its geographic location, Honduras is vulnerable to the impact of climate change, putting it at risk for increasing numbers of floods and hurricanes in the mountains and coastal areas during the rainy season and extreme droughts during the summer, according to the Honduran National Climate Change Directorate (DNCC) website.

It’s caused the UHR to train consistently so personnel will be ready to save lives in the event of a natural disaster.

In April, Honduras’ Regional Humanitarian Aid Center (CARAH) provided search, rescue, and evacuation training for 32 service members from the UHR, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. They were also taught the best ways to handle hazardous materials.

CARAH is the teaching center for the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC), a regional agency comprised of the Armed Forces of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. One of its primary goals is providing humanitarian aid during natural disasters and other emergencies.

Cooperation with U.S. SOUTHCOM

In addition to participating in CARAH-sponsored training, Honduran service members participate every year in Humanitarian Allied Forces (FAHUM), a multi-national exercise coordinated and sponsored by the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) to evaluate national response mechanisms and inter-agency coordination in the event of a disaster.

According to SOUTHCOM's Exercise Branch, Honduras will host FAHUM '15 which will be a Tabletop Exercise (TTX) between August 26 and September 4, designed to discuss/evaluate Honduras' national disaster response plan at the operational level and build partner nation capacity to respond to a major disaster and to strengthen hemispheric cooperation/collaboration between regional humanitarian entities and military/security forces in the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility.

"Honduras will also host FAHUM '16 which will be a Command Post Exercise (CPX) and Field Training Exercise (FTX), between April 19-29, 2016, designed to evaluate/validate Honduras' ability to integrate national, regional, and international disaster response efforts at the tactical and operational level in response to the effects of a category 5 hurricane," they added.

“In addition, Joint Task Force (JTF) Bravo shares its experiences in responding to fires and other areas with the Honduras Fire Department,” Colonel Zelaya said. “We generate a multiplying effect for these experiences, techniques, and knowledge to our country’s Armed Forces, who are also part of the humanitarian allied forces.”

The high-level cooperation and training prepare Military and civilian institutions to rescue as many people as possible during natural disasters and other emergencies, said Eugenio Sosa, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH).

Earthquake response

The UHR has a history of cooperating with the security forces in other countries during times of natural disasters, including when it worked with Salvadoran Military and police forces to help civilians after two major earthquakes struck El Salvador in 2001.

An earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Mercalli scale was recorded on January 13 of that year, with another one measuring 6.6 striking a month later. They collectively killed 1,159 people, injured 8,115, and destroyed more than 41,000 homes, according to the United Nations report “El Salvador: Evaluation of the earthquake on Tuesday February 13, 2001.”

In response to the earthquakes in El Salvador, Honduras mobilized about “200 service members, principally personnel and equipment from the First Engineering Battalion, who performed tasks distributing humanitarian aid, debris removal, security at public facilities, medical outreach, and repairs to communications,” Honduran Engineering Lieutenant Colonel José Luis Mendieta Corea said.