Firefighters from san jose de ocoa ,Dominican Republic arrive in Hazleton for training
“I didn’t have oxygen,” Castillo said, recalling the day he passed out while fighting a fire in the Dominican Republic.
It was just another day on the job at the San Jose de Ocoa fire department, where fire fighters use archaic equipment – or none at all.
“It can be pretty dangerous,” Castillo said.
San Jose de Ocoa, a city of 32,000 in the Caribbean nation, will finally receive the safety equipment it needs.
“Thanks to these guys,” said Castillo, a smile spreading across his face as he motioned toward Hazleton Fire Department personnel. The department, along with others across the region, donated self-contained breathing apparatus, hoses and other equipment to San Jose de Ocoa.
And, Castillo and three of his colleagues were invited to Hazleton for training they’ll share when they return with fellow fire personnel in San Jose de Ocoa.
The Dominicans reported to the city’s South Side Station Thursday and were fitted with donated turnout gear and boots. On Friday, Hazleton firefighters showed them how to pack hoses, use fire extinguishers and navigate a smoke-filled building.
Most of the equipment they used for the training exercises, Castillo said, were foreign to him.
“I have seen it before – but only on TV and in the movies,” he explained.
The invitation to train stateside came after a January trip by Hazleton Deputy Fire Chief Shawn Jones and city firefighter Jose Melo to San Jose de Ocoa, Melo’s hometown. The visit revealed firefighters were under-equipped, the department had few pieces of working equipment, and what apparatus it did have would not meet United States’ safety requirements.
It wasn’t long after returning to Hazleton that the two began seeking aid for Ocoa and a neighboring department in Sabana Larga. Knowing that the departments needed more than an instruction manual to use the equipment, the Hazleton firefighters arranged for the training.
By day’s end Friday, the Dominicans had learned many new skills.
“They are showing us the right stuff to do,” Castillo said. “We want to learn and we will teach this to others in our country.”
“They are so eager to learn,” Hazleton Fire Chief Donald Leshko said. “They are doing terrific. They’re catching on quickly.”
Leshko commended his and other departments for the help, saying local personnel have gone “above and beyond” the call of duty.
“Our department has such a huge heart,” he said.
The Dominicans will be in Nanticoke today for live fire training and to practice search techniques and learn forcible entry tactics.
Training won’t be without the proper equipment, like the time the driver of an Ocoa fire truck severely injured his hand while attempting to smash the window of a burning house, Castillo said.
“We didn’t have a tool to force open a door or a window,” Castillo said. “His hand was all twisted and he had a lot of pain.”
On Sunday, the trainees will learn how to tackle car fires, practice first aid and administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
While at the Southside station, the guests met Amilcar Arroyo, who is helping them raise funds to purchase a 1979 pumper truck from a New York department. Tax deductible donations for the Dominican fire department can be made by calling Arroyo at 570-956-9488.
They also were welcomed by Hazleton Mayor Joe Yannuzzi and acting City Administrator Mary Ellen Lieb.
As Friday’s snowstorm wound down and firefighters took a break from training, Yannuzzi asked them whether they had ever seen snow.
“I have seen it,” said Castillo, whose city has a tropical climate. “I have seen it only on TV. Now I can feel it and play in it.”
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