ROCHESTER — With Pedro Martinez Sr. at the helm and backup from Rochester Fire Department Capt. Dave Kaltenbach, the crew of four men climbed up the fire truck ladder into the top floor of a four-story tower to complete a search-and-rescue mission.
After several minutes where the men could not be seen, they emerged out the bottom-floor door — rescue dummy in hand — to applause from a small group of observers.
The June 23 simulation — in which smoke is created by theatrical smoke machines — was part of a two-week training session for three firefighters from the Dominican Republic city of Puerto Plata. The firefighters’ visit was made possible through the International Rochester-Puerto Plata Sister Cities program. The training took place at the Monroe County-Rochester Public Safety Training Facility on Scottsville Road.
"The training is very good," noted Martínez, who is the Puerto Plata fire chief. "We are learning a lot about equipment with which we were not familiar."
Jason France, training coordinator for the Monroe County Fire Bureau, said that the Puerto Plata firefighters have been phenomenal as well. Their training will cover such topics as fire behavior, foreceable entry, personal protective equipment, ladder control, tools and equipment, and ventilation.
"If I could have 10 people like them, I could run a fire house," France remarked. "They are extremely motivated. I’ve never seen anything like it. And the stories they’ve been telling us about how they handle situations is unbelievable. It’s a whole different world there."
Such stories include drinking milk if a firefighter inhales smoke to try and diminish any toxins, said Rochester Fire Department Lt. Willie Jackson, who added that firefighters here wear self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs) to prevent such inhalation.
"That’s old school," he said of the Puerto Plata firefighters’ method. "Hopefully, we can get them some SCBAs so they don’t have to worry about breathing in so much smoke."
The Puerto Plata firefighters plan to share the information they are learning — including a Spanish manual — with the firefighters in their hometown in the northern part of the country. Firefighters, city officials, Sister Cities committee members and local community members also are looking to raise money to send the Puerto Plata firefighters back home with more up-to-date equipment.
"The equipment will help a lot," Martínez added. "It will improve our work."
When a contingent of representatives visited Puerto Plata last fall, Rochester Fire Capt. John Schreiber and Jackson returned with a mission to do just that — provide their fellow firefighters with training and equipment that will help them keep their community safer.
So they along with members of the Rochester-Puerto Plata committee helped arrange for a group of Puerto Plata firefighters to travel to Rochester.
"They came back full of ideas and enthusiasm," said Rochester Councilwoman Carolee Conklin during an initial meeting with the Puerto Plata firefighters on June 17. "We’re looking forward to our fire truck sprouting wings and heading to the (Caribbean.)"
Because of state firefighting standards, equipment becomes decommissioned, she explained. Because it is still safe and usable, however, the idea developed to donate two firetrucks and an ambulance to Puerto Plata, Conklin added.
"It’s so far superior than any equipment they have currently in the Dominican Republic," she said.
Instead of wings, it will take a lot of fundraising to pay for the $12,000 it will take for the city to ship the equipment via an overseas container, noted Relton Roland, head of the Sister Cities’ Puerto Plata committee.
"(We are counting on) the goodwill of our Rochester citizens to help up with the project," he added. "This is a humanitarian effort."
Francisco Roberto González, who took part in the training alongside his chief and the chief’s son, Pedro Martínez Jr., said that he had already learned a lot during the first week of classes.
"We thank all these firefighters … and the city of Rochester for offering us this opportunity," he remarked. "We are proud of this achievement for our country."
The Rochester firefighters have not only provided them with important skills, Martínez Jr. said, but also have welcomed them with open arms, providing dinner at their fire stations and even taking them out for ice cream.
"We feel like we are with family," he added. "We could never repay them for all they have done for us."
The relationship between Rochester and Puerto Plata began about 15 years ago but was reinvigorated about four years ago when the mayor visited here, Rolad explained.
"The result of that visit was a reaffirmation of our relationship," he remarked.
The fire rescue training is one of three projects that fall under the Sister Cities umbrella, he added. Another is to build a second preschool in the city, and the third is to increase tourism and cultural exhanges, he noted.
Christine and Carl Luft of Honeoye Falls have been raising money to build a second preschool in Puerto Plata for several years through their Dominican Hope Foundation. According to information in an El Mensajero Católicoarticle about the initiative, nearly 3,000 children younger than 15 in Puerto Plata cannot read or write.
The couple also is looking to raise an additional $12,000 to build the school and recently received news that Bank of America is sponsoring an Employee Matching Gift Program to support the project.
More resources are desperately needed by the Puerto Plata firefighters he met who have such great talents as exemplified by the contingent receiving the training, noted Schreiber.
"We’re just looking to make a difference in their community," he added. "We are blessed in the United States. So we saw an opportunity to share our abilities and help them increase their service delivery in the area of public safety to the community."
EDITOR’S NOTE: To donate to the International Puerto Plata-Rochester Sister Cities project to ship fire equipment to the Dominican Republic city, contact Michael Leach at 585-428-7319 or email@example.com.