Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on January 2, 2018.

Peruvian Connection

The country’s all-volunteer fire service turns to NFPA to help improve its response to a daunting array of hazards

On a recent visit to Peru, I had the opportunity to visit with and learn about the challenges facing the nation’s fire service, one of the few in the world with an all-volunteer model. This even includes the capitol, Lima, a city of 8.9 million people, which is entirely protected by highly dedicated volunteer firefighters.

Lima, like most modern world cities, is a complex mixture of historic buildings, modern high-rises, and densely populated residential districts, all interconnected by a network of narrow streets and congested highways. Coastal Peru, including Lima, is highly vulnerable to tsunamis and earthquakes due to its location along the Pacific’s “ring of fire.” This all means that Lima’s volunteer firefighters must be prepared to handle numerous high-probability, high-impact events such as building fires, motor vehicle crashes, medical emergencies, hazardous materials incidents, earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires. The volume of incidents helps to keep the interest and commitment of members at a high level, but it also no doubt takes a toll on families and employers.

The Peruvian volunteer departments face many of the same difficulties that were identified by their U.S. counterparts in NFPA’s “Fourth Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service.” Those include acquiring up-to-date personal protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus, and providing formal training and certification on a wide range of skills. Many parts of Peru also struggle with recruiting and retaining volunteers, as well as keeping them trained and equipped. I was told it can be difficult to ensure that fully qualified personnel are available to respond to every emergency, especially considering the wide variety of hazards present in Peru.

With these challenges in mind, the government has announced an effort to upgrade the capabilities of the nation’s fire services. This step is part of a larger national initiative to improve government services and the quality of life leading up to the country’s 200th anniversary of its independence, which it will observe in 2021. To achieve this, Peru’s leaders have asked for NFPA’s help in several ways.

Peru is now working to establish a system of training and professional qualifications based upon NFPA standards, such as NFPA 1720, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments. Over the next year, NFPA will work with the Peruvian fire service leadership to identify the specific activities that NFPA can support with standards, training, and technical expertise. NFPA is eager to help, and from everything I saw on my visit, the Peruvian firefighters are committed as well.

While the language and customs may differ, I’ve found in my travels that there are universal similarities throughout the world’s fire service organizations. I felt right at home when I visited Lima Volunteer Fire Station No. 4, with its hospitality and firehouse camaraderie. The 125 members staff the station around the clock, and I was impressed with the energy they put into checking and cleaning each piece of equipment. It was obvious that they aspire to model themselves after the United States fire service—in pursuit of that goal, they now purchase apparatus designed in accordance with NFPA 1901, Automotive Fire Apparatus, and seek donations of personal protective equipment from the U.S. Even their rescue truck logo was modeled after the logo of FDNY Rescue 4.

Whether career or volunteer, military or municipal, wealthy or poor, I have yet to find a firefighter who does not fully embrace the role of preparing for and responding to emergencies of all kinds, natural and man-made. Peru’s fire service is as dedicated as any, and NFPA is looking forward to helping it become even better.

DONALD BLISS is vice president of Field Operations for NFPA.