U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Humanitarian Assistance Program (HAP) delivered 170 sets of safety equipment, valued at $483,000, to 34 rural companies of the General Corps of Volunteer Firefighters of Peru (CGBVP, in Spanish), on February 11, 2020.
“This is a very important donation, because in the last seven years we haven’t been able to acquire equipment to protect our firefighters; our equipment in use is second hand,” Brigadier General Larry Finch, CGBVP commander, told Diálogo. “This equipment is new and complies with all international safety regulations. Now we will send five full-body safety suits to each company, so the group in service will be able to tend to every emergency with less risk.”
SOUTHCOM’s help arrived just in time, as several brigades lost equipment and vehicles due to recent harsh weather conditions. “The Kitamayo River in Pisac, Cusco, overflowed on February 7. The water swept away everything from the emergency response location. Our suits and vehicles were left inoperable, among the debris that the current left behind,” Major Fabián Achancaray, head of the Pisac Firefighting Company, told Diálogo. “But our firefighters ignored their flooded base and went out to help more than 400 people that the destructive flood had affected.”
Firefighters use the valuable donated equipment on a daily basis. “Suits have a five-year life span. After that time, they lose their gas, smoke, and flame resistance. But some companies couldn’t change them for more than 10 years; we continue to use them because that’s the only option we have,” Colonel Luis Antonio Ponce, national superintendent of Peru’s Firefighters, told Diálogo. “In January alone, we responded to almost 9,000 emergencies related to fires, gas leaks, short circuits, flammable substance leaks, and rescues. You can imagine the wear and tear.”
Between 2016 and 2017, SOUTHCOM donated safety equipment through HAP for the fire stations in Callao, Chosica, and Santa Anita, and the Santiago de Surco district in Lima.
“We are grateful to SOUTHCOM for this equipment, thanks to a partnership that’s very strong and dates back many years. They provide constant support, with training that diversifies our knowledge,” said Brig. Gen. Lynch. “One of the areas where they help us the most is in search and rescue techniques, as the Andean region is prone to floods and mudslides in winter.”
The Peruvian Firefighters Corps estimates that SOUTHCOM has trained more than 1,000 volunteers in the country in the last five years. SOUTHCOM also supports the construction and provision of equipment for the Disaster Risk Management complexes in San Martín, Huánuco, and La Libertad departments. Each of them has a Regional Emergency Operations Center, a Regional Warehouse for Disasters, and a Collapsed Structure Search and Rescue Training Center. The Peruvian National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI, in Spanish) estimates that the investment in each complex is about $1.5 million.
“The complexes are highly operational to confront major challenges. Disasters such as earthquakes, torrential rain, floods, or mudslides affect commercial activities and block communication routes,” said Col. Ponce.
“We have come to support Peru in emergencies such as those caused by El Niño Costero in 2017, and we’ve provided medical assistance with four deployments of the hospital ship USNS Comfort, working together with the Peruvian government for the well-being of Peruvian communities,” Denison Offutt, minister counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Peru, told the press. “We are certain that these humanitarian assistance activities will continue and will contribute to reinforcing the solid bonds of friendship and cooperation that join Peru and the United States.”
SOUTHCOM’s HAP has been developing projects and humanitarian support with state ministries, regional governments, and INDECI since 2006. The U.S. Embassy in Peru estimates that a total of $40 million has been invested in these projects, which seek to strengthen Peru’s capability to provide services and humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations.