Written by Stan Gabruk
I’ve been in Puerto Vallarta now for more than twenty years. Running my small fishing company over the years I’ve been approached by every charitable group looking for money or donations under the sun. But I never met any of these people unless they were asking for something financial. Sure there were lots of “great” causes. Most people are retired Expat types, so it makes sense they’d come to me since I’m American. Like that means something, but there you are. Nothing really rung my bell until one day.
I always tell people I used to be an “engineer”, but now I fold T-Shirts and take pictures of dead fish for a living. One of these T-shirt folding days, I had shirts spread out on the counters and in came this thin, not too tall (but always in stiletto’s), blonde headed Canadian lady. She was kinda cute and “age” appropriate, whatever that means. We started talking, she said she had to get one of “my” shirts for her son since they were so funny. Which naturally is music to my ears.
I naturally make “chit chat” with customers and I discovered this thin blonde lady was working with the “Bomberos” or Fire Dept. here in Puerto Vallarta. Naturally I thought that was pretty cool, so I asked her a few brief questions. Hoping for a short answer this thin blonde told me how bad the situation was in the Bomberos and frankly I was shocked. I finally asked what this nice ladies name was and she told me Christena Callahan. She was from Canada, Calgary to be exact. And out of the goodness of her heart and a desire to try and make the world a better place, started working with local groups. She would discuss what was needed, then like a “Stiletto Bulldog” went out and started making things happen in Canada!
Well at this point she grabbed my attention. I then asked her to expand on this conversation and asked who she was working with. She mentioned a few different groups, then she said she was working with the “Bomberos”. Bomberos? So in my ignorance, I asked, what are Bomberos? Thankfully she didn’t call me stupid or make me feel stupid, then continued to tell me how this voluntary group was severely hampered in their service due to a serious lack of equipment and apparently a serious lack of interest from the city officials!
Seriously, the Bomberos get very, very little money, had very little “working” equipment and risked their lives on a daily, many times hourly basis! The locals call the Bomberos “The Honorable Men”. And they are all that and more. But I got a little side tracked here so lets get back to the subject.
As Christena continued, I was first shocked, then horrified. There were no ambulances for the Civil Protection personnel for injured people anywhere. I personally in my mind thought about how if my daughter came down to PV and got in an accident of some sort, that she would be “tossed” into a taxi and that was your “Mexican Ambulance”? It kinda made me mad, to think there are literally millions of people coming into the area and there are “NO” emergency services. At that point I looked at Christena with a “heavenly glow”, she at that moment to me was a “walking angel”. At this point I was saying all kinds of things about the city leadership and their complete incompetence of looking out for the public welfare!
The conversation then moved to the Bomberos, the Mexican Fire Department. I was naively thinking the Fire Dept. would have to better than that, right? I mean most buildings in Puerto Vallarta are made of concrete blocks, they don’t catch on fire, right? At that point Christena corrected me and proceeded to tell me of these “brave men” and how there were running into burning building in street clothes! They would put a motor cycle helmet on, wrap wet rags around their arms and run into the concrete building completely engulfed in flames. When they came out, many times with small children or animals, their rubber based shoes would be “goo” like melting bubble gum. Seriously, this is how bad the conditions the Bomberos were working with!
Christena asked me if I’d like to become involved and I told her I’d like to see what I could do. After more than twenty years in PV as a business man I have contacts at all levels of society. No brag, just fact and that fact help us get the word out. But what I’m best at is writing articles and getting the word out, so that was my function. So I started writing, primarily to a small news outlet called the PV Mirror (http://www.pvmcitypaper.com/download/664.pdf ) first informing them of Christina’s group, The Angels for Mexico. The Articles brought some attention and we had some volunteers, but we were in the early stages and didn’t quite have all our ducks quite in a row. That was then, things are different now. But once again I got side tracked.
At this point I was just numb with disbelief. Christena then asked me if I had ever seen the station. I hadn’t so I agreed to go with Christina and see what the situation was. Once again I was shocked, the “fire station” was a broken down ex-jail of Puerto Vallarta! So there were group showers and bathrooms and a large Dorm for sleeping. You think, “Well this isn’t too bad” that is until you realize they don’t have water working but in two sinks and basics like toilet paper were more of a fantasy than reality, they bring their own. But hey, it’s a station, guys are guys where ever you are, so I chalked it up to “livable”. After going down stairs I noticed a rather large area that looked like it was being demolitioned with broken concrete rocks and that sort of stuff just piled up. But there were class rooms just past the rubble that were used for training and meetings. It just blew me away and frankly made me mad that a local govt’s would neglect their general populations’ health and safety and put no money into this local Government vital organization. It disturbed me deeply.
So I was pretty amazed how the Bomberos could perform their desperately needed services with a complete lack of local Government and frankly the local peoples support. Then I decided to finally take a look at the fire engines. There were three, one was working. It turns out that the equipment the Fire Station has or had, was old, donated and out of date. Which means you couldn’t even purchase parts for the fire engines?! Everything needed to be custom made and you can imagine the nightmare that would be in Mexico.
But the biggest thing that got under my skin was the fact there were no basic protective clothing to protect themselves at all, I mean nothing. Which was the first thing Christena figured the local Bomberos needed.
Christena had previously shared with me that in Canada, when fire fighter equipment went pass shelf life date, the equipment had to be destroyed. Not sold to surplus or sold to private organizations or corporations. So you can imagine millions of dollars were being wasted on perfectly good equipment. To the credit and safety to the local Bomberos, Christina went back to Calgary and went straight to the highest levels of Canadian government and got them to agree to “donate” this out of date clothing and equipment to Angels for Mexico to deliver to Puerto Vallarta’s Bomberos! This is and was monster.
As a result all Bomberos now have full on protective clothing, helmets, radios, breathing apparatus, boots, gloves, you name it. If you can wear it or use it, Christina got it! But that’s not all, Christena supports the entire community from putting in Playgrounds for disadvantaged areas. Medication, medical equipment, and training. Yes, Christena has sponsored several training sessions to help insure you have a full functioning fire dept. or Bomberos here in Puerto Vallarta area.
Now the story doesn’t end here, in fact if you understood that only one, the one we have in Puerto Vallarta just outside the hotel zone, is the only fire station for more than fifty miles in any direction. Which are covered by these Brave Men! Which in itself is ridiculous, but that’s where we are. Other stations have been planned and property has been secured in Nuevo Vallarta, but this is on the drawing board waiting for funds. And once again that’s where I come in, getting the word out and getting the necessary funds.
There is much more work needed and we’re hoping you read the entire article and see the challenges we’re facing. Puerto Vallarta is one of the top ten vacation destinations in the world. But most travelers are completely unaware and frankly “assume” there is some sort of system in place, surely. There isn’t. If you’re interested in Donating money or donating time which is more valuable, we’d love to hear from you. We can now give donation receipts for money donations. And we need your support which could be as simple as telling somebody about the Bomberos and their plight. First we need awareness and visibility. Next we need volunteers and then money. If you’re retired, looking for a cause or something worthwhile to occupy your time, this would be a great option. And at some point, you’ll be working with me.
Which brings us to the, ha ha, the “bottom line”. If you’d like to get involved and help make a growing Puerto Vallarta safer for us all. You can Contact Christena Callaghan at: Christena.firstname.lastname@example.org … Tell her you read my article and want to get involved!