Eight firefighters from San Clemente, Santa Ana and Tustin left for Argentina last week on a mission to train fire departments and donate about $270,000 in needed equipment.
Members of the Orange County Fire Authority organized the project to help San Clemente's sister city, San Clemente del Tuyu, and nearby Argentine cities Balcarce and Lomas de Zamora.
The firefighters will show their South American colleagues how to use the three refurbished, 100-foot ladder trucks that are being donated. The trucks will help them fight high-rise fires.
The biggest need is in San Clemente del Tuyu, which has a population of about 17,000 that grows to 40,000 during the summer tourist season. Despite the high number of high-rise hotels in the city, the mostly volunteer fire department currently has no ladders on its fire engines.
"We will be training them in the use of the trucks . . . as well as giving them special training to fight high-rise, natural gas, propane and flammable-liquid fires," said firefighter Tom Harhay of Fire Station 60 in San Clemente.
The Fire Authority also hopes to raise an additional $20,000 through the community and businesses by Sept. 15 to buy more equipment, including Jaws of Life for the firetrucks.
Fernando Alessio, a firefighter from Balcarce who was in Orange County last week, said: "We feel very privileged to be getting help from the U.S. because of the level of professionalism here.
"We will exchange skills and friendship. They have big hearts here."