Brazilians visit Olathe department to learn techniques

Friday, Jun. 06, 2008

Olathe Daily News

by Jack Weinstein

Two Brazilian firefighters traveled a long way from home to train with some of the best fire departments in Kansas.

Captains Moacir Porfiro and Anderson Silva’s six-week trek across the state landed them in Olathe on Tuesday and Wednesday.Grant funding through Partners of the Americas — a volunteer organization that connects people in the United States, Latin American countries and the Carribean — paid for the trip. It allowed the firefighters to participate in training exercises they will take back to their department, the Fire Brigade of Pernambuco.

“We think it’s a good opportunity for both of us,” Silva said referring to his department and fire departments in Kansas. “We need to learn more. The partnership is good for everybody.”

Olathe Assistant Chief Doug Fischer said he didn’t hesitate to host Porfiro and Silva after receiving a call from the Lawrence Fire Department, which also hosted them. He said it would be a good learning opportunity for both sides.

“We get a chance to learn how other countries do things as far as operationally and administratively,” Fischer said. “We can learn from them really as much as they learn from us. It opens our eyes up to what’s going on not only around here but really the world.”

The Fire Brigade of Pernambuco is in Pernambuco, a state of more than 8.5 million residents in northeastern Brazil, and it is part of the state’s military. While Porfiro said they don’t carry guns or fight in wars, they go through extensive military training to become firefighters.

Aside from being part of the military, Porfiro said their department has adopted many of the standards used by fire departments in the United States. He said they came to Kansas because the departments provided the training opportunities they could learn from.

In addition to Olathe and Lawrence, Porfiro and Silva visited departments in Hutchinson, Wichita, Topeka, Manhattan and Greensburg. They’ll head to Overland Park next and then back to Lawrence before taking the 15-hour flight back to Pernambuco on June 15.

They will use the training they received about disaster preparedness, emergency management, hazardous materials, emergency medical services and heavy rescue back to Pernambuco.

The idea of sending firefighters to the United States isn’t unique for the Fire Brigade of Pernambuco. Last year through Partners of America, Porfiro said, their department sent 50 firefighters to five states including Oregon, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois. Porfiro and Silva said Kansas exceeded their expectations.

“We visited other states but Kansas is amazing,” Silva said.

Partners of the Americas has formed 60 partnerships since its inception in the 1960s. Several Kansas organizations collaborate as part of a formal partnership with Paraguay, called Kansas Paraguay Partners, which was established in 1968. Kansas and Paraguay work together to plan and implement community-based projects designed to benefit both parties.

Nan Wilson, past president of Kansas Paraguay Partners who has volunteered with the organization for the last 10 years, said Kansas agreed to host Porfiro and Silva because one of Brazil’s partners, Georgia, was unable to host them this year. Wilson said Kansas’ history hosting Paraguayan firefighters, which is unusual because partnerships usually entail educational or cultural exchanges, allowed Kansas to host them.

She said there are a number of advantages for Kansas, which has 150 volunteers in its partnership with Paraguay, to host people from Latin American countries.

“It just brings a much broader understanding between our two regions,” she said.

Wilson added that it allows both countries to better understand each other’s history and culture.

While Kansas and Brazil don’t have a formal partnership, Wilson said it may be possible for more Brazilian firefighters to visit Kansas.

Impressed with the department and the reception they received, Silva said they’d like to host firefighters from Olathe.

“We’re talking about the possibility of Olathe firefighters coming to Brazil to train and share information,” Silva said.

Fischer said The Olathe Fire Department actively pursued opportunities to collaborate with other departments to help improve its firefighting and lifesaving efforts.

“We’re always looking for ways not oÚnly to help people out,” he said of other departments, “but also to learn from other people as well. (Partnerships were an option) the department will always keep open.”

jweinstein@theolathenews.com

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