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Chihuahua firefighters to train with AFD Academy

Chihuahua Fire Chief Joel Estrada speaks about three of his firefighters joining an Albuquerque Fire Department academy class next week. The 20-week class starts Monday. Behind him are, from left, Cmdr. Gene Gallegos and Chihuahua firefighters Lt. Julio Cesar Vazquez, Lt. Victor Escamilla and Manuel Eduardo Estrada. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — They’re from different countries and different cultures, but fire burns the same in Albuquerque as it does 500 miles south.

Three Chihuahua city firefighters, who work in a Mexican city about 550 miles south of Albuquerque, are joining an Albuquerque Fire Department academy class that starts Monday.

The 20-week course gives the Mexican firefighters a chance to see how their counterparts train in the states, said Gene Gallegos, Albuquerque fire’s training division commander.

It’s the second time that Albuquerque has hosted firefighters from Chihuahua. A group came up and completed an academy class about 10 years ago as part of a sister cities program. Joel Estrada, the Chihuahua fire chief, completed the course in Albuquerque the last time the city hosted firefighters.

“My class 10 years ago … it’s very important, everything I learned here,” he said. “It’s very, very important for us, the training for firefighters.”

The foreign firefighters will stay at Old Station 14 in West Albuquerque.

There are some significant differences between being a firefighter in Mexico compared to the United States. The Chihuahua firefighters don’t go to medical calls, which is what about 90 percent of Albuquerque fire’s calls for service end up being, Gallegos said. The 150-member department handles calls for service for a population of about 800,000. In Albuquerque, about 685 firefighters handle calls for about 600,000 people.

But when it comes to fighting a fire, not much is different.

“It’s all the same dynamics,” Gallegos said. “If a structure is on fire, we all take the same safety precautions.”

The three firefighters from Mexico have between five and 13 years of experience. They’ll work alongside 39 cadets who are trying to join the AFD.

Fire Chief Paul Dow said that the local firefighters can get benefits out of the arrangement, too. He said the younger cadets will be getting training alongside more older and experienced firefighters.

And Dow said he’s seen firefighters in New Mexico train alongside their Mexican counterparts, who can demonstrate how to perform things like vehicle extractions without using the Jaws of Life. He said that can come in handy if there’s equipment failure.

“In certain areas, they are going to be able to teach our instructors, ‘Hey, this is how we’ve been able to accomplish this with less,’ ” he said. “Here’s how to get the job done without the equipment.”