Fire sheds light on fire-fighters’ woes
PANAMA. A fire started close to 3:30 a. m. yesterday in one of the deposits of the La Oca Loca store in Calidonia and not controlled u...
PANAMA. A fire started close to 3:30 a. m. yesterday in one of the deposits of the La Oca Loca store in Calidonia and not controlled until hours later, uncovering the grim reality of the under provided fire-fighters who set out to protect civilians every day.
Flames at the store quickly extended throughout the building, keeping fire-fighters busy throughout the morning and well into the afternoon, and threatening an adjoining public school, Pedro J. Sosa.
The firemen not only had to fight a fire, but had to cope with low water pressure, shortage of fire-trucks, lack of adequate security equipment and more.
. They had to use the National Police’s “Auto Pitufo”, the ACP “Piton” fire truck, and an improvised pool, among other creative means to tackle the fire. Many of their trucks were overheated, plus being left without gas.
Throughout the day, fire-fighters had to do with poor water pressure, which forced IDAAN to start special pumps in the area.
On Balboa Avenue, bystanders also witnessed a fire truck rushing to the scene with giant water trucks right behind.
The lack of equipment was also evident, with some firemen entering the scene without helmets and masks. TV images showed some fire-fighters leaving the scene affected by smoke, while others were unable to get close to the building.
For over two months, the volunteer fire-fighters have been denouncing the lack of adequate equipment endangering their lives as well as those of people they are volunteering to protect.
The Ministry of Government and Justice has delivered 100 sets of protection gear but the volunteer fire-fighters claimed the donations were insufficient.
They demand a long-term three year program to provide them with proper protection, life insurance, as well as a training facility.
Currently most firemen learn through experience or through their instructors over the years.
The “Pitufo” car (“Auto Pitufo”), used by the National Police to repress riots with water, came to the scene to help fire-fighters. Shortly after, however, it was left without water. The ACP’s Piton truck also came to the rescue.
The fire was controlled by 6:45 a.m. but the heat concentrated inside the building added to the presence of inflammable material paved the way for a re-ignition around 8:00 a.m. By 10:00 a.m. black smoke was still pouring from the building. By 11:00 a.m. the front of the store collapsed.
The wall separating the store from the Pedro J. Sosa school collapsed by late morning, damaging some infrastructure. According toJose Castillero from the Ministry of Education, the school had been ready for the start of classes on April 13.
A toxic cloud covered most of the Calidonia area, and the Civil Protection Service director, Luis Francisco Sucre, told nearby stores to close down for the day to avoid exposing workers and clients to the lethal smoke.
City traffic was significantly affected up until the early hours of the afternoon.
Fortunately, there were no fatality reports, but a number of firemen suffered from smoke inhalation.
La Oca Loca suffered a total loss, while nearby stores La Onda and Textiles Los Increibles were partially affected by the fire.