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Latino Daily News

Thursday February 10, 2011

Chicago Area Firefighters Send Equipment and Themselves to Help Latin America

Chicago Area Firefighters Send Equipment and Themselves to Help Latin America

Photo: Aftermath of Chile's 2010 8.8 earthquake

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Last February, when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit Chile, an Illinois’ pastor was startled out of his sleep. He awoke to find that in Rancagua, the city he was visiting, the buildings looked like they been “shook like shoeboxes.”

That night changed Elgin, Illinois’ Rev. Henoch Fuentes’ life. The town he had visited frequently, was devastated. Around 800 people died in that earthquake, and countless homes along Chile’s oceanfront were destroyed by tsunamis caused by the quake.

Two of Rancagua’s five fire stations were destroyed, and wanting to help these people rebuild, Fuentes began organizing a group of firefighters to help ensure that in the event of a similar catastrophe, the people would be better prepared.

Next week, Fuentes’ rounded-up group of 10 Elgin firefighters will travel to Chile to train around 100 firefighters in Rancagua.

Each year, Chicago area firefighters travel to Latin American countries to bring not only equipment, but their expertise and experience to aid the local firefighters.

Some Latin America’s ‘fighters travel North for training as well, like firefighter-paramedic Alan Emody of the Bloomingdale Fire Department. He says that while he’s traveled to Guatemala twice a year for the last seven years to help with the training,Guatemalan firefighters also travel to the Chicago area twice a year to take part in a sort of exchange program to train.

For the Elgin firefighters headed to Chile next week, Fuentes has said the hardest part was raising awareness about the cause, and of course, raising the money.

The trip will cost about $17,000, and the firefighters raise $7,000. The remaining travel expenses were covered by the ‘fighters themselves, said Fuentes who moved to Chicago from Rancagua, and is now of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin.