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Firefighters Donate Equipment, Expertise to Chilean Counterparts

ELGIN, IL (January 3, 2011) – Firefighters in Rancagua, Chile, will soon get new lifesaving equipment and training from their counterparts in this Illinois community thanks to an Evangelical Covenant Church minister.

Henoch Fuentes serves as police department chaplain in Elgin, and as a fire department chaplain in his native Chile. For the past five years, he had been raising donations to help Chilean firefighters but stepped up his efforts following the deadly 8.8 magnitude earthquake last February that tore apart several cities and spawned a tsunami.

Fuentes was in Rancagua when the earthquake struck and endured “the most terrifying minute of my life.” More than 100 large buildings in the city of 200,000 people sustained severe damage.

About a dozen Elgin firefighters will travel February 7-14 to train 70 Chilean firefighters. Elgin area fire departments already have donated and shipped equipment on a large container.

Donated items include a Thermal Imaging Camera, “Jaws of Life” extrication equipment, and Vetters Bags, which can lift objects weighing thousands of pounds off trapped victims. The equipment no longer meets National Fire Protection Association requirements but still exceeds Rancagua standards, Elgin Fire Department Lt. Robert Bedard told a local newspaper.

Fuentes says he wants the trip to be educational for the American firefighters too. “I want them to see the effects of the tsunami,” he explains.

The memory of that tsunami sent Chileans in the area scrambling for higher ground when a 7.1 earthquake struck the area on Sunday. No fatalities or injuries have been reported.

Because of last February’s earthquake that damaged many hotels in the area, the Elgin firefighters will stay with the families of local firefighters.

“As a firefighter, I’ve trained my whole life and gladly look forward to training others,” Bedard said. “It’s what firefighters do.”

Firefighters are paying for the trip from their own funds. Fuentes also will travel to Chile with the firefighters.

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