Firefighters consider themselves members of one great global fraternity. And so, after the bike tour the other day I accompanied an Australian firefighter couple up (and up and up) above La Candelaria to the Egipto neighborhood fire station.
Fortunately, the climb was worthwhile, as firefighter Iver Escobar gave us a very complete tour, in a very basic English.
The Australians seemed impressed by the quality and modernity of the Colombians’ equipment, some of which was actually newer than what they used back home. The strategies and arrangements sounded fairly similar. But the Austraians picke up some pointers, such as tying axes and hoes together for more convenient carrying.
Melbournes and Bogotá appear to have similar proportions of firefighters to residents, altho their shift arrangements are different. In at least one way, the Colombians struck me as much more practical: they wash and dry their uniforms in the station, whereas the Australians send them off for washing – meaning that they’re gone for a whole week.
The Egipto station, one of 17 in Bogotá, is unusual in that it is also responsible for firefighting in rural areas east of the city. They helped fight the big fires in the hills two years ago. Escobar pointed out how difficult it was to use helicopters to douse them when the fires generated fierce, hot, swirling winds.
The firefighters are also sometimes called to respond to medical and other emergencies. In these cases, they usually arrive faster than the ambulances, Escobar told us. In a case of municipal disfunction, when the city calls out an ambulance over the radio, other ambulance companies listen to the broadcast and race to the scene – where they sometimes fight over the ‘client,’ obliging the firefighters to referee.
The station has a bunk room, a small basketball court, a TV room, kitchen and exercise machines. It also has a small grotto filled with Catholic saints. Firefighters, like bullfighters, have reason to want God on their side. But the men in Egipto have another motive: Many of the firefighters believe the station is haunted, and some even claim to have seen ghosts there, albeit inoffensive ones. Escobar himself heard a strange voice once late at night.
In fact, the fire station property has an interesting history. More than a half century before, Escobar said, the site held a beer brewery. And, after the 1948 Bogotazo riots, supposedly corpses of the victims were buried here, perhaps explaining the ghosts.
Escobar finished the tour by giving the Australians Bogotá firefighter jerseys – and the Aussies promised to send their own once they return home.
Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours