El Salvador training trip filled with learning experiences for JIBC firefighting grads

From left: Kim Saulnier, FIre Prevention Inspector at District of North Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services and JIBC lead instructor, JIBC fire graduates Ryanna Smith, Spencer Kyte, Tommy Robertson, and Douglas Race, and Jenn Dawkins of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, at the presentation by the 2018 One World students at JIBC’s New Westminster campus recently.


Firefighting graduates from the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) recently completed a special deployment to El Salvador to support essential firefighter training in the Central American country.

While they provided training demonstrations, public education sessions and performed community work, they returned home having learned a great deal themselves, and gained a greater appreciation for the resources firefighters have available to them in Canada.

The five students, all graduates of JIBC’s Fire Fighting Technologies Certificate program, travelled to El Salvador on an almost three-week deployment, to visit numerous local fire halls and train local firefighters. This special program is made possible with support from the Fire Rescue International Training Association (FRITA) and student scholarships from the Irving K. Barber One World International Scholarship administered by the Victoria Foundation with additional support from JIBC.

The five 2018 One World Scholarship students, Spencer Kyte, Connor Llewellyn, Douglas Race, Tommy Robertson and Ryanna Smith, became four when Llewellyn had to return home a few days into the trip, upon learning he had been hired by Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.



That was the first instance when the group had to adapt to unexpected circumstances, including vehicle trouble, illness, and minor injuries. In learning to adapt and go with the flow, they believe it helped better equip them for future careers in the fire service.

“Although it was extremely inconvenient to have these challenges … it enabled each of us to overcome these obstacles and come back feeling stronger and tougher than before,” said Ryanna Smith, one of the participants who shared their experiences in a presentation at JIBC’s New Westminster campus recently.

This is the ninth year that JIBC graduates have helped bringing new fire training expertise to El Salvador. Over 20 days, the group visited 11 fire halls across the country. In addition to providing instruction, the graduates learned from the experienced local firefighters both about their profession and the unique challenges they face.

Douglas Race noted that while the local firefighters or “bomberos” do not respond to medical calls as Canadian firefighters do, they have other responsibilities specific to that part of the world including structure fires, extrication from vehicles, wildland fires, and removal of African killer-bee hives and snakes. 



They carry out these duties with limited resources, such as having a single working fire hydrant in a town of 21,000, or using a pickup truck retrofitted with a water bladder as a town’s fire truck, or having only one air compressor in the country to refill firefighters’ air cylinders, Race said.

 In rural areas, one of the common fire hazards is the result of a lack of proper garbage disposal programs, which leads the locals to burn their trash in piles along the side of the road, a very dangerous practice in the hot, dry country, said Spencer Kyte. In addition, controlled burns are used to dispose of leaves stripped from harvested crops of sugar cane.

“This is done every day, normally with no ill effects. However, setting fire to a large farm field in a hot dry country does have some risks. We were told a story by the landscapers at our home base of him doing a controlled sugar cane burn when a tree caught on fire and fell over, almost landing on the workers.”

The group’s community service included fire safety presentations to classes of schoolchildren and helping local high school students to dig out the beginnings of a soccer field at a school near where they were staying. 



Tommy Robertson appreciated the opportunity to get a taste of the fire hall lifestyle, including living with colleagues for 24 hours a day, training together, preparing meals together.

“If a future employer understands that we can handle this lifestyle and make it run smoothly, we might be more likely to fit in with all of the other firefighters in the hall.”

Ryanna Smith agreed.

“This scholarship has provided me with more of the tools I need to follow my dreams and moreover gave me the chance to experience a part of the world I never would have seen otherwise.”


Visit the One World Scholarship webpage for more information about the requirements of the award that is available to recent graduates of JIBC’s Fire Fighting Technologies Certificate (FFTC) Program. For more information about upcoming offerings of the FFTC program, visit the FFTC webpage or send an email to fftc@jibc.ca.

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