Commander Carbajal relates the events of the fire in Plaza Puerto Paraíso
At 11:45 pm on Saturday, April 15th, the telephones starting ringing at the Central Fire Station in Cabo San Lucas. A fire was reported in the parking lot of the Plaza Puerto Paraiso shopping center.
Immediately Unit M-50 responded, with Captain Ulises Sandoval in charge, and the fire crew that was on call. On arrival they saw the magnitude of the fire and alerted the personnel that had already gone off duty to rest. Keep in mind that the Spring Break operations were underway and the crews had been working all day.
We began to connect the hoses to the hydraulic fire hydrants in the shopping center, but to our surprise we found that there was not enough water pressure, so we had to resort to an alternate plan. We pumped water from the central fire station using two pump trucks, taking advantage of the proximity of the station to the incident site. This caused a delay in fighting the fire and caused it to spread to level 2 of the shopping center.
Fortunately for the firefighters involved we had recently received a generous supply of breathing tank equipment which allowed them to access the center of the fire, despite the dense toxic smoke generated. The scene was horrifying and the sound of the explosions of tires, electrical systems and vehicle air bags increased the pressure on the crews to control the situation. The fire apparently started around 3:00 am on Sunday. Nevertheless, the fire resurfaced when the flames, that had already been extinguished on the second floor, reached the third level through a duct where there was a warehouse of construction materials causing a new fire and the necessity of transferring the personnel and equipment to fight the fire on this new level.
The operation lasted until 4 o’clock in the morning. Then they were given the cleanup tasks which consist of checking to ensure that the fire is completely extinguished, and to cool the property. This action took another two hours, so in total it was 6 hours of intense firefighting, but thanks to the constant training that we receive, we managed to meet this challenge.
Q. LCN: How do you describe the experience Commander?
A: It put great pressure on us, and the first priority was to safeguard the lives of the people in the cinemas that were operating that night. The second was to prevent the fire from spreading to the commercial areas, and third to try to contain the flames to avoid further damage.
Q. LCN: How many firefighters were involved?
A: The work was carried out by 25 firefighters with different positions, and 6 rescue units were mobilized.
Q. LCN: Is this your first experience in this type of fire?
A: Unfortunately no. In 2015 there was a fire in one of the Esperanza development towers where 50 cars and 60 golf carts were burned.
Q. LCN: What lesson does the fire department learn from this fire?
A: That continuous training is the greatest safety guarantee we have. We must remember that we are proudly the only Fire Department that has a training school that is recognized by the Federal Education Department (SEP) at the national level, and that in 2010 we won the national award for civil protection. Precisely, one of the stations from which we receive training is the South King Fire Rescue Station in Washington State, and it was through their Captain, Jeff Hammel, that we received the donation of the oxygen tanks and equipment that was the determining factor in combating this fire.
Q. LCN: Is this rescue crew prepared to face an aerial catastrophe?
A: We would definitely lack equipment and materials. But we have crews trained for it. We have firefighters with up to 30 years of experience. There is a special foam that is used in this type of fire that is expensive and we do not have it. It is called AFFF. When it has been necessary, we have used detergent to make foam, especially in fires in hydrocarbon containers. To date we have not taken part in aerial accident rescue.
Q. LCN: What message does this event leave to the community?
A: I would say that there are several. The first is that in all places where there is a considerable concentration of people, there must be firefighting equipment that works and personnel trained to face the contingency while waiting for the rescue crews to arrive. Those affected must obey the instructions of the firefighting and rescue teams. There were people who tried to enter by force to try to recover their vehicles, putting their lives at risk and the fire-fighting operation. The authorities must supervise in more detail the protection measures that all the buildings that are public places must have. I do not want to imagine what would have happened if the fire had been during the day. Evacuating hundreds of people in a state of panic is not an easy task.
Q. LCN: Tell us about the donation of the breathing apparatus equipment Commander?
A: As I stated earlier, we have a very good relationship with the South King County Fire Department in Washington State, from which we have received several training courses. Especially with Captain Jeff Hammel who told me that their city was renewing the individual breathing equipment gear for their firemen. The equipment still had 5 to 7 years of use remaining. We made a formal request for the donation, and fortunately it was approved by the council. Thanks to the Federal Way foundation in that same city, we were able to have the equipment shipped free of charge to Chulavista, California. Our Mayor, Arturo De la Rosa, provided the funding for the transfer of the equipment from the border to Los Cabos. In total there were 120 sets of gear and we kept 35 sets here. The others were distributed to crews in La Paz, Pescadero, San Jose del Cabo and Miraflores. The next ones that arrive will be distributed to crews in the northern part of the state.
In a fire, the most life-threatening element is the dangerous gas and the smoke that is produced which is generally lethal. It is our main enemy, and that is why firefighters are given the nickname in Spanish SMOKE-EATERS. Thanks to this equipment donation, not only Cabo San Lucas, but also four other cities already have the necessary equipment to intervene more safely in firefighting.