Firefighters arrive on the scene to battle a structure fire — wearing blue jeans and cotton gloves.
In some countries, that’s not farfetched.
Personal protective equipment is a luxury many third-world departments can’t afford. Some are so ill-equipped that handling a basic fire response can be hazardous.
“They have so little it makes you so thankful to have all that we have,” Salem Fire Chief Mike Niblock said.
His department is sharing its wealth, donating 10 pallets of surplus equipment to Lima, Peru, and hoping to make a difference in the lives of their fellow "bomberos," the Spanish word for firefighters.
About 120 self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units, 250 cylinder air tanks, and 53 sets of turnout gear will be dispersed to needy firehouses in the South American country, including Salamanca 127.
An SCBA is a respirator device mounted on a carrying frame and connected to an air tank, a regulator and a mask.
Turnout gear, also called bunker gear, includes jacket, trousers and boots. The terms come from the tradition of firefighters keeping gear by their bunks for easy access.
“They have a desperate need, and we have a surplus,” Niblock said. “We can help make the firefighters safer, and they can actually do a little more because they have better equipment and can maybe save some lives.”
Salamanca is a district in Lima, a city of nearly 10 million people.
“It’s not a rich district. It’s not a shanty town, either,” said Hernando Torres-Fernandez, consul general of Peru. “The Peruvian government and the Peruvian people really appreciate and are very grateful for this act of generosity.”
Torres-Fernandez, who is based out of San Francisco, visited Salem in mid-November to officially accept the donation on behalf of Peru Fire Service.
Lt. Juan Carlo Pacheco from Salamanca 127 was here around the same time undergoing training on how to maintain the SCBA units. He also went on a ride-along with local firefighters at Station 4 and presented Chief Niblock with an appreciation letter.
Firefighters at Salamanca 127 reached out several months earlier after seeing the now-famous dollhouse video posted on Facebook by Salem Fire Department.
The video shows firefighter Alan Fitzpatrick demonstrating fire behavior and flow patterns to recruits on a wooden dollhouse. It went viral and has been viewed more than 6.5 million times.
A letter from Salamanca 127, written in Spanish, mentioned the video and asked if the department had any excess equipment.
Salem Fire Department often donates equipment it has replaced to smaller departments in the area — fire stations in Turner and Detroit recently received hose — but personal protection equipment is strictly regulated.
The SCBA, purchased by Salem Fire in 2005, could not be passed on to other local firefighters because it's considered obsolete. The National Fire Protection Association requires such equipment be retired 10 years after the date of manufacture.
Replacing the equipment is costly and often a hardship on departments. Salem Fire was able to purchase 115 new SCBA units for more than $770,000 thanks to an Assistance to Firefighters Grant through FEMA.
The grant was for $716,275, and Salem Fire contributed $61,120.
Since 2001, the AFG program has provided funds for critically needed equipment and training necessary for protecting the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards.
Salem Fire’s new SCBA, manufactured by Scott Safety, are lighter and more comfortable. The units were placed into service in November 2016, leaving the department with a mountain of outdated equipment.
Fire service regulations are much less stringent in other countries, like Peru, where it has been reported that 90 percent of firefighters lack fire-resistant clothing and oxygen.
“It had passed its life cycle for us,” said Salem Deputy Chief Gabe Benmoussa, who answered the Salamanca letter and coordinated the donation. “But it’s very well maintained and can still be used.
"They have hardly anything. It’s going to impact fire safety for sure.”
Benmoussa, who speaks six languages including Spanish, figures the donated gear could last another 10 years if properly maintained.
He personally drove the pallets of equipment to the Port of Seattle, where they await shipment along with donations from the Washington State Council of Firefighters.
When the donation arrives, Salamanca plans to hold a formal ceremony, and Benmoussa may attend on his own dime.
He said the firefighters there plan to add Salem to their station name and fly the Oregon state flag, like what another fire station in Peru did in honor of donations from Washington.
In Trujillo, a station goes by Bomberos Washington State B-177.
“Forward This” appears Wednesdays and Sundays and highlights the people, places and organizations of the Mid-Willamette Valley. Contact Capi Lynn at clynn@StatesmanJournal.com or 503-399-6710, or follow her the rest of the week on Twitter @CapiLynn and Facebook @CapiLynnSJ.