2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Colorado Springs fire donates protective gear to Isla Mujeres firefighters

Published: February 19, 2014, 2:00 pm, by Andrea Sinclair

Ten years ago, a Colorado Springs Fire Department employee and his wife went to Isla Mujeres, off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, on vacation. They stopped by the local fire department, as they liked to whenever they traveled abroad, and realized very quickly that the bomberos (firefighters) had no Personal Protective Equipment, or bunker gear.

“They had a full-time fire chief and about 30 volunteers, but only two sets of bunker gear,” Friedman said. “I decided that I would go back one day and try to bring them the protective equipment.”

Friedman did exactly that last month, returning to Isla Mujeres with six full sets of bunker gear donated by Colorado Springs fire Station 18 and the full support of Fire Chief Chris Riley.

“The safety regulations in the U.S. are much more strict than in other countries, so equipment that may be discarded here because it’s been patched up or it’s past its mandated ‘shelf life’ can still be used over there,” Friedman explained.

Before traveling to Isla Mujeres in January, Friedman worked with Capt. Scott Smith and the crew at Station 18 to put together six full sets of bunker gear. Station 18, in northeast Colorado Springs, coordinates the advanced cleaning and maintenance of personal protective equipment.

Personal protective equipment, or bunker gear, is designed to provide a safe thermal liner and exterior shell to hold up in high heat environments for short periods of time. Firefighters wear the gear to make quick exits from burning structures safely.

“After we find that the gear has no service life left, in accordance to U.S. standards, we look for opportunities in other departments and agencies outside of Colorado or the U.S. to see if they have use for it,” Smith said. “This is a great way to build camaraderie between fire departments, and help create safer work environments in agencies that don’t have the resources to provide gear for their firefighters.”

Friedman took the equipment to Mexico in three military duffel bags and surprised the Isla Mujeres Fire Chief with the equipment, who didn’t know anything about the donation. When the chief realized what he was receiving, he insisted on having a formal ceremony with the city’s mayor and council to present the equipment, Friedman said.

“I really didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but they were so happy,” Friedman remembered. “For me it was just something from one fire department to another, trying to help out.”

Watching the bomberos’ expressions, as they opened the duffel bags and tried on the equipment, was the most fulfilling part of the trip, Friedman said.

“The look in their eyes said it all, because they knew how useful the equipment was and how much they needed it.”

Sandy Friedman (second from right) and firefighters at Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Courtesy of Colorado Springs Fire Department.

Sandy Friedman (second from right) and firefighters at Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Courtesy of Colorado Springs Fire Department.