The Salvadoran Fire Department (CBES, in Spanish) and the Salvadoran Armed Force (FAES, in Spanish) strengthened joint emergency responses, thanks to the New Hampshire Army National Guard (NHANG). Salvadoran firefighters and service members trained in rescue techniques for sudden floods, landslides, and earthquakes, June 5-7, 2018.
“During the exercises, we practiced different rope methods, as well as throw, anchor, and knot techniques. We also shared knowledge on planning a rescue operation,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Greg Heilshorn, spokesperson for NHANG. “The course shows how civil and military authorities can work together in an emergency situation.”
The exchange raised an important challenge for both Salvadoran institutions: improving reaction time and increasing interoperability. The training took place in the municipality of San Pablo Tacachico, in the fast, muddy waters of the Suquiapa River, north of La Libertad department.
“The training started with basic knots used to tie and anchor ropes safely during rescue operations in dangerous areas, something that was new to them,” said U.S. Army First Lieutenant Katrina Simpson, NHANG assistant instructor at the event. “We showed them techniques such as the bowline, the square, the butterfly, the double figure eight, and the clove hitch.”
Cooperation among representatives of CBES and FAES strengthened as the training moved along, which showed during the exercises. “It’s rare for the military and firefighters to train together. It was an added bonus.” said U.S. Army Major Brian Fernandes, NHANG commander of the training team. “We’re here to exchange ideas that can hopefully save lives.”
The big test
In the last round of exercises, participants carried out simulated rescues in the Suquiapa River. The seasonal rains increased the difficulty of the re-created hazardous situation. Service members and firefighters formed two teams and took turns rescuing and being rescued.
Members of one team entered the river and let the current carry them downstream. Quickly and accurately, the other group tied and threw ropes from the steep banks. They repeated the exercise several times to improve reaction times.
“The exercise was useful to correct some errors, exchange suggestions, and put them into practice. It helped strengthen our bonds of cooperation with the firefighters; we learned a lot from them,” said Second Lieutenant Johny Sibrián, commander of Search and Rescue of the Salvadoran Army’s Humanitarian Rescue Unit. “We will work together to achieve the same level of training and knowledge in emergency relief, so that support to civilians can be more effective.”
“When a natural disaster occurs, such as those caused by torrential rain, we have to use the same techniques and operation protocols,” said CBES Sergeant Wilfredo Laínez. “The course enabled us to practice how to carry out a rescue together. I wish we could practice more with them.”
Since 2000, El Salvador participates in exchanges with New Hampshire through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP). The SPP program connects the National Guard of a U.S. state with the armed forces of a partner nation for mutual cooperation.
“We are proud to be partners with El Salvador; it fostered great training opportunities, enduring relationships, and deep respect for our cultures,” Lt. Col. Heilshorn said. “Undoubtedly, we will learn from each other and become more balanced as soldiers and as citizens.”
CBES was grateful for the instructors’ support, which increased firefighters’ skills and knowledge. “This is an opportunity that will allow our teams to provide better service to people in case of an emergency,” said Major Joaquín Parada, director of CBES. “It matters to us that our units gain different abilities in swift waters, because floods and landslides affect our country during winter, a time we coordinate with FAES to have greater chances of saving the victims.”
Salvadoran Army Colonel Domingo Antonio Monterrosa, commander of FAES’s Peacekeeping Operations Center, concluded the exercise with an award ceremony, handing diplomas to all participants and thanking NHANG. “We are grateful for the exchange of knowledge, which will undoubtedly serve to improve the services we provide citizens when emergencies occur and where the Armed Force joins firefighters to protect lives,” Col. Monterrosa said.