Volunteers firefighters in Chile set up water supply system for Supertanker

Firefighters in Chile, mostly volunteer, are battling fires that have burned over half a million acres

As the number of people killed and the acres burned in Chile continue to grow, more attention is being focused on the 5,000 firefighters battling the flames.

747 Supertanker
The 747 Supertanker reflected in a portable water tank at the Santiago Airport.
Almost all of the firefighters in the cities, towns, and rural areas are volunteers. On Thursday I talked with some of them at the Santiago Airport that were supplying water for the SuperTanker. They explained that in their department the only paid person was the Conductor, a position that in the United States we would call an engineer, chauffeur, or driver. The Conductor we talked with said he lives in the fire station with his wife and children.

Firefighters Santiago Airport
Firefighters at the Santiago Airport, January 26, 2017.
The several dozen firefighters at the airport water supply operation, who represented multiple departments, were very professional, and had what appeared to be well-maintained equipment.

Between refills on the 747 the firefighters lined up wearing their full bunker gear and stood at attention. They had just learned about the death of a fellow firefighter and wanted to honor his or her’s service. 

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “Volunteers firefighters in Chile set up water supply system for Supertanker”

  1. Last time I checked 94% of the fire fighters in the U.S. are volunteers. That statistic doesn’t include forest fire agencies. I can “see” a lot of pride, hard work and enthusiasm in the fire fighter of Chile at the airport.

  2. Paid, trained, experienced firefighters are at least as important as quality firefighting equipment. Probably tough to accomplish with a diminished tax base.

    1. The tradition of the volunteer fire fighters in Chile is a very old one. To become a volunteer firefighter there is a waiting list in every single town and city across Chile, and it often takes years to get an open slot, typically another member must sponsor the person applying. It is seen as more important and patriotic than volunteering to join the military. It is for life. Even old firefighters that are no longer able to fight fires, still show-up for training and other activities, or help with administration. Often until they die.

      At the core, is a sort of belief that fighting fires and rescuing people is such an honor, and so important, that a paid, “professional” group, of fire fighters would not take it so seriously (correct or mistaken). It is not something that can be trusted to the vagaries of government ministers, budget cuts, and so on.

      That said, the volunteer departments equipment is mostly provided by the government. Simply the firefighters receive donations in yearly fund raising drives, that they divided between them and is viewed as a thank you for their service through-out the year.

      They do receive professional level training. Experts from the around the World are brought in to for training. Firefighters join specialized brigades such as dealing with chemical hazards, high-rise rescues, and so on.

      This is not just a bunch of guys standing on the street corner they pick-up, and hand them a garden hose.


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