Jacó, a booming beach town on the central Pacific coast, is one of many tourist towns in Costa Rica that depend on far-away fire stations. Thanks to efforts by a retired U.S. fire captain, a Costa Rican real estate developer and other community members, that may soon be changing.
According to Capt. Edward Mendel, a regular visitor to Jacó from his home in Key Largo, Florida, a GMC 7000 fire truck arrived here in early July, donated by Florida’s Palm Beach Fire Department to the National Insurance Institute (INS), the Costa Rican institution that oversees the National Firefighters Corps.
The truck will soon be part of Jacó’s community fire station in the works,Mendel said. The station will also service nearby Playa Herradura, to the north, and Playa Hermosa, to the south.
“We started working on this a year and a half ago,”Mendel told The Tico Times. “When I was here in Jacó looking for a fire station, I couldn’t believe they didn’t have one.”
The retired captain added that INS has agreed to match his efforts by donating a ladder truck.
According to Hector Chaves, the head of the Firefighters Corps, the donated fire truck is currently getting a check-up from the INS mechanics, and will be sent to Jacó as soon as a temporary location can be set up from which the truck can operate.
Mendel explained that Eduardo Acosta, a Costa Rican real estate developer, donated land for the fire station to be built on, and INS was in the process of evaluating it.
Chaves told The Tico Times the property is adequate, the community will begin the construction of the station and INS will finish it. In addition, INS will provide salaries for four firefighters, and the station will become “one more INS fire station, with all the benefits,” he said.
Through his nonprofit Bomberos International (www.bomberosinternacional.com), Mendel is also coordinating efforts to get firefighters and emergency response workers in the United States to come to Jacó and give training courses to people in the community, in exchange for free lodging at area hotels and other services.
“Our goal is to offer CPR, first aid and first responder training to everybody in town, and then go up a level and teach able-bodied people to actually be volunteers, to get certified to go into a fire scene,”Mendel said.
Chaves said that volunteer fire fighters from the community are “indispensable” for the fire station.
The donated fire truck also comes equipped with a “Jaws of Life” unit, which is machinery for extracting victims of car accidents, Mendel explained. In addition, the Palm Beach Fire Department in Florida donated a mile of fire hose, a smoke ejector fan and other fire-safety equipment.
Like Jacó, many other important tourist destinations such as Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean coast, La Fortuna, in north-central Costa Rica and Playa Tamarindo in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, do not have nearby fire stations, and INS has a budget to build only two a year (TT,May 27, 2005). Chaves, however, said that when there is “community support,” such as exists in Jacó, INS could open a fire station in addition to the two allotted per year.