Sunday, June 7, 2015

Rotary's Los Amigos 2015 project delivers ambulances and fire trucks to Mexico

Rotarians, dignitaries, and first responders in Tepatitlán, Mexico
Photos by Dick Burnham, Gregory Tiffin, and others

Toni Lucas and Chris Davis

Southern Alberta Rotary's Los Amigos 2015 project delivered two ambulances and two fire trucks, jaws of life, hydraulic cutters and spreaders, helmets, coveralls and other rescue supplies and turnout gear to Mazatlán in April. The decommissioned and then refurbished vehicles came from Pincher Creek, Fort Macleod, and Jasper. They were dispersed to the Mexican cities of Tepatitlán, Tonalá, Tepic, and Culiacán.

11 Southern Alberta Rotary Clubs joined in the effort this year, from far away as Kindersley, Saskatchewan. In addition to the 11 clubs directly involved, other Rotary clubs donated money, there were corporate donations, and the Alberta Government granted $10,500 to the project.

Southern Alberta Rotarians preparing for the trip
This is the fifth year of the Los Amigos project.Dick Burnham and Lynn Brasnett of the Pincher Creek Rotary Club were among those who volunteered to deliver the vehicles and equipment to Mazatlán, a trip of over 3,000 miles. They were informed on Friday April 10 that the convoy would be leaving Lethbridge on Sunday April 12. A two-week adventure ensued, which included the drive to Mazatlán, dispersing the equipment to various communities, training the first responders there, attending community celebrations, and concluded with a flight back to Lethbridge.

Goin' to Mexico!
The route to Mexico passed through Dillon Montana, moved on to Fillmore Utah, then to Kingman Arizona where local Rotary clubs provided a celebratory dinner, then on to Tucson, then came the international border city of Nogales, followed by a stop in Navojoa, with a final push to Mazatlán.

"It's been an ongoing project for five years," explained Lynn Brasnett, a local Rotarian and EMT who has been involved in the Los Amigos project for two years. Rotary Clubs in Mexico take applications from areas that lack good first response equipment and then award the equipment accordingly. "Then they are delivered to the communities in which they are going to be used. Our guys that drive down actually go into the communities, for the ceremonies. There are big hand-over celebrations, because these communities are so grateful for what we're doing."

An ambulance donated from Pincher Creek went to Tepatitlán.

News Story in Primera Hora (Mazatlán) Newspaper
This year, Los Amigos added a vehicle extraction course and EMS training to the project, held at Autonomous University of Sinaloa in Mazatlán. Brasnett sat on the subcommittee that helped to bring the training initiative to fruition. PowerPoint presentations with Spanish translations were created, and translators assisted during the training sessions, which included anatomy, physiology, CPR, and dealing with trauma related injuries. "We did two days of EMS training and two days of fire training. They trained 21 people during the week. Then we were able to distribute equipment and supplies that we had brought down as well."

Pincher Creek EMT/Rotarian Lynn Brasnett with Tepatitlán firefighter
"We've donated equipment for the last five years, but now we're bringing it into a classroom setting, and we're teaching people how to use it."

"The Mexican government will support them, but they don't really pay them, and the EMS don't get paid. Basically, it's all volunteer. Even in these big cities like Mazatlán the fire department doesn't get paid. They get a stipend to run the service. The guys that run the ambulance have to buy or scrounge the stuff they put in their ambulances as well. This was the first time they were brought together, trained together."   Brasnett said the trainers recognized that people were more comfortable training with others from their own community, and deliberately moved them around into new partnerships as the week progressed, creating new bonding opportunities. "By the end, they made friends, they work together in the same industry, they should be friends and have some sort of camaraderie." Rotary Clubs in Mexico sponsored the training and supplied lunches.

Training in Mazatlán
Even though everyone that went on the trip knew they were changing lives, they could not foresee all the ways they would affect the people they interacted with.  Brasnett spoke about two women who took the training. "They were firefighters/EMS and they had no equipment. They virtually had no fire equipment, they had no helmets, and they were so excited,"  They each received helmets and other gear.

Seeing there were women from Canada working and training and getting respect from their colleagues was eyeopening for some of the few women who attended. "One lady said she was going to quit. She said 'It's so hard, but you've inspired me.' It makes me feel very honored to be able to do something like that for people."

Fundraising and other efforts are already underway for Los Amigos 2016.

Pincher Creek Rotarian Dick Burnham with Mexican Rotarian

Related links and stories:

Los Amigos Facebook page
Puck 'n Funny entertains at local events
Pincher Creek Ambulance 1099 arrives at new home in Mexico

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