Bomberos from Bariloche take the heat in Aspen |

Bomberos from Bariloche take the heat in Aspen

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Cameron WenzelFive firefighters " or bomberos " from Bariloche, Aspen's sister city in Argentina, train with Aspen firefighters earlier this week. Aspen firefighter Bruce Bradshaw, third from right, shows the visitors how to use a water gun installed on one of the city's fire trucks.

ASPEN ” Five firefighters, or bomberos, from Bariloche, Argentina, departed Aspen on Friday with helpful training, great memories and a pledge for vital equipment that will help them in their duties back home.

The firefighters were in Aspen as part of the Sister Cities exchange program. They participated in several intense training exercises while they were here.

“They had an awesome week,” said Willard Clapper, a 30-year volunteer with the Aspen Fire Department who helped organize the exchange. Clapper and Aspen firefighter Blair Elliott traveled to Bariloche in February 2008 as part of the exchange and realized the Aspen department might be able to provide some valuable aid to their brethren at the foothills of the Andes. While the bomberos were very dedicated, they hadn’t been exposed to some of the training the Aspen volunteers receive. In addition, finances force them to use some equipment that is out of date.

“When they looked into our station and saw the equipment we have it was like boys in a candy store,” Clapper said.

The bomberos arrived Thursday, May 21, and immediately got into the thick of it with training the next day. They practiced a different discipline every day for a week.

“They are tough, outgoing, get-it-done kind of firefighters,” Clapper said. “This wasn’t a bunch of people sitting around talking about how great they are.”

One of the most valuable sessions was at a “burn tower” in Rifle, where fire scenarios of different types are simulated.

“They were able to get into some real intense heat and fight fires,” said Clapper.

Tuesday night the visitors went through water transfer drills at Woody Creek, essentially using trucks and equipment to transport water to where it is needed to fight fires. Clapper said the firefighters in the five stations, or cuartels, in the Bariloche region battle a lot of wild fires. They have numerous lakes to tap for water sources, but they haven’t had a lot of experience transporting water, so the training in Woody Creek could pay instant dividends.

Pablo Cavalli, the senior official among the Bariloche volunteers, said he and his colleagues were greatly impressed by the training facilities in the Aspen area, like at the Rifle fire tower. They must rely on modest facilities and learn during actual emergencies back at their hometown, he said.

The Aspen volunteers have become “like brothers” during the week, Cavalli said. “These bomberos have been helpful and very willing to teach.”

Cavalli spoke through interpreter Cameron Wenzel of Aspen, who shadowed the group during most of its stay and relayed instructions during the training exercises.

The visit to Aspen was the first trip to the U.S. for each member of the Bariloche contingent. One volunteer from each cuartel, those with the highest levels of experience, were selected for the exchange. The other bomberos were Boris Meznar, Roman Bruna, Oscar Sanches and Marcelo Riquelme.

In addition to firefighting training, the visiting bomberos attended various activities in town and checked out the scenery on Independence Pass and other areas surrounding Aspen.

“I’m a skier so I love the ski mountains,” Cavalli said, noting the variety of terrain. He also credited Aspen for not allowing construction of buildings higher than three stories.

Cavalli said the bomberos will share what they learned with their colleagues back home. With a little luck, they will also have a significant amount of equipment to share. Clapper said the Aspen Fire Department intends to donate 40 self-contained breathing apparatuses to the Bariloche departments. Those pieces of equipment, essentially like scuba diving gear, are outdated by U.S. standards, but better than what the Bariloche firefighters possess. Aims Community College in Greeley heard about Aspen’s donation and contributed another 40 of the apparatuses from its firefighting program, according to Clapper.

The Aspen department also plans to donate a portable defibrillator for treating victims of cardiac emergencies.

Griff Smith, coordinator of Aspen Sister Cities program with Bariloche, said the equipment will officially be donated “as soon as we conquer” Argentina’s customs.

Smith said the exchange has featured doctors, nurses and other medical personnel over the years as well as aspiring ski racers and physically challenged skiers. This is the first involving firefighters. It was evident that it was a success.

“I could just see the camaraderie develop between them,” Smith said.

The fire department handled most of the expenses of the exchange, and numerous Aspen businesses donated goods and services to help out. It takes the entire town to pull off a successful exchange, Smith said, and Aspenites answered the call.