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Underfunded but Undeterred— Meet Nosara’s Firefighters

By Adam Dietrich


A firefighter from Nicoya sprays down hot spots at Tuanis Furniture Manufacturer in Nosara.

When flames sprang up at the Nosara dump last month, it had all the potential to be a catastrophic fire.  Layers of garbage, dried out by months without rain, sparked quickly in the midday sun on March 11. Compounding the issue were the combustible gases, methane and others, which had been created by decomposing material and trapped by more garbage. 

But Nosara’s firefighters, a force made up of 14 local volunteers, were on hand to battle the flames. The fire that day burnt strong for more than 14 hours, destroying almost a third of the whole dump. However, the fire didn’t spread into the nearby jungle because the firefighters were able to build a fire line around it and keep it from spreading, thus preventing disaster.

The firefighters from Nicoya, who service this area, arrived some 12 hours after the fire had been called in, by which point the Nosara volunteer firefighters had largely contained the fire.

The dilemma they faced that night and continue to face now is a severe lack of funding and basic supplies. Marcel Schaerer, the founder of the Nosara firefighters and president of the Nosara Civic Association (NCA), is working on developing an infrastructure to support the firefighters. This year, he helped to set up a fund of $4,000 to pay for disaster preparedness, which includes fire as well as a tsunami warning system. They also have two fundraising events coming up. 

The Nosara Firefighters were founded in November 2009 . At that time, Schaerer organized a donation of firefighting equipment from a former client of his in Switzerland and then in December circulated volunteer forms looking for firefighters. He says the focus first and foremost was to get reliable people who would go and put fires out and then build the infrastructure to support them.

“The best firefighter is the quick one,” commented Marcel.

By the start of summer in 2011, the firefighters were well-known in the community. This presented a dilemma, as they began receiving a higher volume of calls. Many of the firefighters think this may be due to a misconception in the community that they are professionals or that this is their job. In reality, in addition to fighting fires, the volunteers have full-time jobs and families. The problem that results is burnout.

Facing the lack of funds and supplies, some of the firefighters are getting creative. Most of the firefighters bring their own gear to fires. It’s not uncommon to see someone in a bandana and ski goggles battling a blaze with a garden hose. Jo Pinheiro, the second captain, even modified his pickup truck to carry a 1,000 liter tank, a pump, several hoses and other supplies like picks, shovels and axes. 

In terms of donations the firefighters would welcome anything: money, supplies, safety gear or even a used fire truck if one could be found.  Volunteer Kyle Bombard says the lack of safety gear is a chief issue. “At the dump there was burning plastic and silicone and who knows what else. We really need something to breathe through and cover our face and eyes,” he says.

There is another way to help the firefighters: exercise caution with fires, especially in the dry season. For example, make sure a campfire is completely doused before leaving it. 

Volunteer firefighter Andrew Saxon estimates that 90% of the calls they receive are due to fires that are started on purpose but then spread because the person didn’t have supplies to keep the fire under control. 

Captain of the firefighters Ryan Bombard says that people need to take responsibility for their trash and field fires and keep them under control, or at least call the Nosara firefighters in advance so they can be on call.

A strong firefighting service is a vital part of a community. Along with the police and the paramedics, they form part of a tripod that supports community stability. For the firefighting association to remain viable, however, the Nosara community will have to step up and find ways to better fund the volunteers, for their safety and ultimately for everyone’s safety.

 
Nosara volunteer firefighters Kyle Bombard (left) and Brian Bombard were
able to control the huge blaze at Tuanis quickly using water from The Village's
pool.
   
 
   
 

Nicoya's Firefighters Cover a
Large Territory

Nicoya has had a professional fire station for 50 years now. It is made up of six full-time firefighters and 11 volunteers. Right now they attend calls in all of the canton of Nicoya, as well as the cantons of Hojancha, Nandayure and as far as Jicaral. But it takes longer for the Nicoya firefighters to reach Nosara due to the bad roads, with an estimated travel time of an hour and a half although the distance is only about 60 kilometers.

The Nicoya firefighters deal with about 460 to 480 calls a year, of which about 15 are in Nosara area and 15 to 20 in Samara. However, the majority of their work is done in and around Nicoya, according to station sub-chief Jhonny Garcia Enriquez. He estimated that during the summer they handle 60 to 70 calls a month, especially brush fires and bee swarms.

According to Garcia, when they get to a fire in Nosara, the Nosara volunteers are often already at work there.

   
 
By the time the firefighters arrived from Nicoya, the Nosara volunteers had
it 80% controlled.
   
 
Nosara firefighters, working by headlamp and truck headlights, inspect a hose
during a fire at the Nosara dump.
   
 

Samara Hopes to Have Volunteer
Firefighters in a Few Years

When a canon at the recent Samara fiestas in Cangrejal set a huge swath of grassland on fire, the town was lucky that firefighters from Nicoya were already in the area responding to a different call. Otherwise it takes Nicoya firefighters about half an hour to reach Samara.

Currently the community of Samara doesn't have firefighters. Their only option in the event of an emergency is to call Nicoya, which is approximately 35 kilometers from Nicoya.

Marco Carmona, the president of the Samara chamber of tourism, recognized the desire to have volunteer firefighters in Samara in the future. However the Chamber's immediate goal is to get a Red Cross station, a process that could take a while, according to Carmona. Until then, they will have to rely on Nicoya's firefighters.


Full Name:
Ryan Bombard

Place of permanent residency:
Live in Nosara originally from Santa Catalina, California

Occupation:
Fisher with Harbor Reef Hotel

Reason for volunteering with the Nosara firefighters:
I was tired of watching people stand by. I feel if someone stands by, watches and has the power do something but they don’t, then they are the problem, I don’t want to be that person

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge faced by the Nosara firefighters and what is needed to overcome that?
I think there are two challenges we face, the first is financial and the second is acceptance, with the community, the police and Nicoya firefighters. We can overcome this through benefits and donations of money and equipment and building a reputation. At some point people need to be responsible for their trash fires and finca fires, they can give heads up the fire department if they want, just to let us know.

Full Name:
Remo Britschgi

Place of permanent residency:
Nosara, originally from Switzerland

Occupation:
Hotelier Casa Romantica

Reason for volunteering with the Nosara firefighters:
Helping the community, there was a need for that. In Switzerland I was with, not the firefighters, but civil protection, which was fires, natural disasters, mud slides things like that.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge faced by the Nosara firefighters and what is needed to overcome that?
It’s hard to do such a good job with such little equipment. It starts with the basic equipment: I bring my own shovel and machete, we need to be mobile and we need to be able to bring the water to the problem, we can use pools like at Tuanis but the dump fire we brought water. We could use funds from anyone and anywhere, we have plans, like a truck. The problem is that we have our jobs then fire fighting we don’t have time to fundraise.

Full Name:
Kyle Bombard

Place of permanent residency:
Live in Nosara originally from Santa Catalina, California

Occupation:
Co-owns Harbor Reef Hotel

Reason for volunteering with the Nosara firefighters:
Small community living life - Catalina had a volunteer fire department and we (Bombard brothers) felt Nosara should be the same. Before there was a fire dept we would help out regardless, Ryan jumped on it, we’d just go an put out fires.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge faced by the Nosara firefighters and what is needed to overcome that?
Volume and supplies, yes it’s tiring because it’s not our main job, more than anything it’s supplies. Safety equipment. When we had a fire at the dump none of us had proper ventilators. We could really use: protective eyewear and breathing equipment, machetes and a truck. Also the community should be conscious we’re here to help but we need their help.

 

Full Name:
Jo Pinheiro

Place of permanent residency:
Nosara, originally from France and the US

Occupation:
Property manager and owner at Mango Property Management

Reason for volunteering with the Nosara firefighters:
I remember one day there was a fire at ‘Delcias del Mundo’ and Marcel called at 1:30 in the morning and asked to help put out a fire because there was no Nosara firefighters. There was no organization, so I decided to help. I had no previous experience but I wanted to do it and I enjoy it too.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge faced by the Nosara firefighters and what is needed to overcome that?
Money, or a truck. If someone comes up with a truck we’ll be great, because then we won’t need money. But because we don’t have a truck at least a good $20000

Full Name:
Andrew Saxton

Place of permanent residency:
Nosara, Originally from Gainesville, Flordia

Occupation:
Sales and project management at Surfing Nosara

Reason for volunteering with the Nosara firefighters:
Because the guys who started it asked me to and I knew they needed somebody to do it and I knew they needed some younger guys

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge faced by the Nosara firefighters and what is needed to overcome that?
Lack of equipment, safety equipment especially, I was 12 hours at the dump without a mask. We have 70 t-shirts available here (Surfing Nosara) for $20, that’ll get us started but also donations would be great. 90% of the calls we were got started on purpose, the person didn’t have supplies. People need to realize that we have other jobs and the cost of actually doing this falls on us.

Full Name:
Brian Bombard

Place of permanent residency:
Live in Nosara originally from Santa Catalina, California

Occupation:
Co-owner at Reef Realty

Reason for volunteering with the Nosara firefighters:
I have a lot of experience in shipboard firefighting and a fair amount of land based fire fighting. And it seemed like there weren’t a lot of people doing it. We, my brothers and I, grew up doing it (Fighting fires).

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge faced by the Nosara firefighters and what is needed to overcome that?
Lack of safety of equipment, community awareness and funding, here we don’t pay taxes like we do in the states.  

 

Full Name:
Exequiel Merlos

Place of permanent residency:
Nosara, originally from Nicaragua

Occupation:
Dog trainer and Tour Guide at Miss Sky

Reason for volunteering with the Nosara firefighters:
I want to help people and we have a really nice town and I will do what I can to protect it.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge faced by the Nosara firefighters and what is needed to overcome that?
We have use our own cars, our own bikes, I’ve been doing this for a few months and I don’t even have equipment.  We could use a truck to be right there, and anytime we need to use it it’s right there

Full Name:
Oscar Ruiz

Place of permanent residency:
Nosara, originally from Santa Teresa

Occupation:
Works for Mango Villa property management

Reason for volunteering with the Nosara firefighters:
Before this I hadn’t done much community work. But this was a chance to give back to the community it presented an opportunity to do something.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge faced by the Nosara firefighters and what is needed to overcome that?
When there is a fire it is difficult to help people with the limited supplies we have, sometimes. Money for equipment would help a lot.

Full Name:
Curt Von Schilgen

Place of permanent residency:
Nosara, Costa Rica

Occupation:
Bar tender at La Luna

Reason for volunteering with the Nosara firefighters:
I have my residency and live here and I wanted to give something back. I am an EMT in the US, took firefighting at community college in San Diego so I had the basic knowledge.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge faced by the Nosara firefighters and what is needed to overcome that?
Need equipment, flash covers and any equipment that can be donated by fire departments. Building awareness in the community about bonfires and trash fire, people need to be aware when there are winds in the dry season. Making sure that we're working well with Red Cross and Nicoya firefighters
Creating awareness in the community, there's a lot of firefighters from Canada and the US that might help us, as well as, promotional shows and we have t-shirts for sale.

Creating awareness in the community, there’s a lot of firefighters from Canada and the US that might help us, as well as, promotional shows and we have t-shirts for sale.

 

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