16 noviembre 2010

Top 50: Victor Fernandez

Top 50: Victor Fernandez
Age: 54
Volunteers in: St. Albert, Alberta
Category: International - Housing & Infrastructure
Organization: Canadian Association for Fire Services Abroad

This volunteer is a top 10 finalist. Click here to vote for this volunteer now » http://www.cbc.ca/change/vote2.html

In Chile, fighting fires is an all-volunteer, often underfunded effort--a reality that makes Victor
Fernandez fret about the safety of his former firefighting colleagues in his native country. Now a firefighter in St. Albert, Alberta, where he settled in the 1980s after immigrating to Canada, Fernandez has been determined to take advantage of the riches of his adopted country.

In 2000, he founded Canadian Aid for Fire Services Abroad (CAFSA), and now travels across western Canada gathering used fire gear and equipment to send to countries in need, mostly in Latin and South America. "I know how it is to work a fire without proper protection," says Fernandez, who is particularly concerned about health risks like exposure and toxic substances that firefighters in Chile face. "Firefighters go into fires with shoes, jeans, no jacket, no gloves--no protection whatsoever. So one of my goals was to send equipment to my buddies in Chile."

He started by sending two helmets. Now 10 years later, CAFSA has collected, refurbished and shipped five fire trucks and more than 800 complete sets of personal protective gear--jackets, pants, coveralls, helmets, boots, gloves, breathing apparatuses--to Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Cuba. So far, 11 big shipments have been sent south, each of which requires about 11 months of prep time.

In Canada, where standards are high, says Fernandez, fire gear and equipment can't be used beyond a fatigue level or expiry date. Trucks are resigned after 15 to 20 years, even if in good condition--and many are, says Fernandez.

Fernandez has put in countless off-hours to the cause, not just gathering gear and soliciting
donations, but getting service suppliers on board. A cargo company now ships two fire trucks a year for free, a service Fernandez pegs at $60,000. And a Calgary company donates its service of refurbishing all the used gear. Dow Chemicals donated two fire trucks to CAFSA, which sent them to Chile after last winter's devastating earthquake, along with gear that included 53 breathing apparatuses. That's a far cry from the amount of equipment available in some regions. For example, in Chillan, a city of 170,000, says Fernandez, five apparatuses were being shared by the city's entire firefighting crew.

Fernandez and CAFSA teams also travel south to teach firefighters how to use and care for equipment. "It's a basic thing, firefighters helping firefighters. But we're also helping Canada by recycling old equipment." And by nurturing foreign friendships, he adds. "All these countries know is that this all came from Canada--the gear, the trucks. They don't remember CAFSA. And they always ask for a Canadian flag to put on their helmets--I strongly believe the big winner here is Canada."

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