Volunteer firefighters risk their lives, expecting nothing in return. In Peru, almost every crew receives no funding from the government. They fight fires. They respond to head on collisions. They worry about the lives in their communities. Often, they wonder if their equipment will fail them. They press on.
“I’m doing my patriotic duty, you know?” Kenny Flores, a volunteer firefighter in Lima, Peru told NPR’s podcast Radio Ambulante, “It’s a way…for us, to try and make the country better.” His first helmet was from the 1980s. All of his equipment was worn, torn, and not able to protect him while he protected others.
Flores sacrificed. He bought his own equipment. The price tag: $1,500 USD. According to checkinprice.com, the average salary in Lima is $590 USD per month. Lima is the country´s gold standard. The rest of the country falls extremely short of the capital city´s living standards.
Across Peru, firefighters put their lives on the line, often times on hold. Lizzy Cantú, a journalist who has lived in Peru for more than six years said the firefighters in Peru come from various backgrounds. Some are professionals: doctors and lawyers. Others didn’t finish high school. They’re old and young. Men and women. Retired and climbing the ladder.
All of them love what they do and how they do it, Cantú described on the podcast. “… All of them told me practically the same thing: that they didn’t want to get paid because that would take something very valuable away from them: the will to do good.”
Public sector employees aren’t often seen as heroes in Peru. Firefighters are. In a 2016 survey, they had a 95 percent approval rating. Still, without funding, the firefighters and the people of Peru live day after day without the proper mode of stopping fires and handling emergencies.
Many departments rely on gifted fire engines and equipment. Japan donated ten vehicles in February to Peru’s National Firefighting Group (INBP). The INBP received four small fire trucks, four ambulances, a first-response truck and a water tanker from Japan, which has donated more than 300 items to Peru since it started doing so in the 1980s.
PeruReports.com reported that the donation was made possible by the Office of Support to the Spouse of the President of Peru, an organization dedicated to supporting social causes and led by the nation’s first-lady, Nancy Lange.
When the big-time donations don’t come to their station, crews get creative. Most notably, according to saatchi.com, Quorum Saatchi & Saatchi in Lima came up with a campaign for the AABV (Asociación Amigos de los Bomberos Voluntarios) to say “if (people) don’t donate, volunteer firefighters have no choice but to find some sort of income doing whatever is necessary, even if it means stripping.”
These firefighters will do anything to protect their communities. They go to work then go to the station. They log hundreds of hours per month. They deserve to have a few dollars shed for them.