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Emergency Fire Call--to Guatemala

September 24, 1997|JULIO V. CANO

After serving 19 years and rushing through some 120,000 miles of Orange County streets, an old fire engine soon will be cruising Central American roads making its longest and possibly most important call for service.

Huntington Beach firefighters have spent three years and countless hours refurbishing a retired 1973 Crown Fire Coach that they will deliver to a Guatemalan city.

Randy Babbitt and four other firefighters are putting the finishing touches on the vehicle, and will embark on a 3,000-mile trip Oct. 19 to San Lucas, a small city about 40 miles southwest of Guatemala City.

They hope the truck will assist their counterparts in fighting fires and saving lives in an area of 75 square miles with a population of 150,000--and only one firetruck.

"We are doing this because we feel a brotherhood with bomberos [firefighters] in Guatemala," said Babbitt, who has spearheaded the project. "For them, fighting fires is like building a home without a hammer."

Babbitt and colleagues John Legg, Phil DiMento, Tony Dalton and Bob Dutton are part of Operation Bombero, an effort to supply Central American countries with much-needed public safety equipment.

The Guatemalan consulate bought the truck from Orange for $3,000 in 1994.

The consulate called Huntington Beach firefighters because they had donated a refurbished engine to Guatemala in 1987.

The trip will take 12 days, traveling 300 miles a day at 60 miles an hour.

The firefighters will spend six days training Guatemalan firefighters with the truck and other donated tools, including a Jaws of Life device, which will be the second of its kind in the country.

Guatemalan Consul General Rafael Salazar said the effort not only provides crucial equipment, but also helps build relations.

"The interest that the Huntington Beach firefighters have demonstrated is part of the solidarity they feel toward our own," Salazar said.

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