Putting out a bureaucratic fire

The Malapasina fire truck for Barichara.

The firefighters of Firefighters Without Borders Canada (FWB Canada) are a dedicated and committed group of professionals, who are asked to train crews across Latin America. From putting out fires in the shanties which hedge Lima, to working alongside colleagues in Chile; the objective of this non profit group has been to help lend a “helping hand” to those who need it.

Hardly an incendiary bunch, FWB Canada have completed 14 training missions and donated second hand engines, which have been put out of service in small Canadian towns, to communities across El Salvador, Paraguay, Panama, Belize, the Philippines to name a few. They have also collected and distributed over 100 tones of firefighting and emergency assistance equipment.

But it appears that Colombia (or at least it’s by-the-book bureaucrats) don’t want Barichara to have a mint condition fire truck, despite the fact, that this unspoiled colonial gem of a town, actually doesn’t even have one fire truck to pro- tect its 20,000 souls.

In a worst-case scenario, Barichara’s locals rely on San Gil to dispatch a brigade, and a difficult 40 minutes away. Barichara’s 300 year-old homes are constructed with wood and wattle and daub walls.

On a holiday in 2004, Canadian firefighter Randy Dubbert fell for Colombia and its charming historic villages. But it took eight years for this country to come knocking at his door again, when a letter turned up at his Vancouver office, requesting from the foreign aid and assistance programme, a truck in the donation stage which could serve Barichara; and the fact, that should a fire break out on this arid plateau, the only immediate solution would be buckets of water, in a place known for regularly running out…water!

The request was of special importance to Dubbert, as Colombia remains his “favourite country in all of Central and South America.” In 2013, he decided on another trip; this time, with the intention of visiting Barichara and teaming up Fire Chief Marcos from the San Gil Fire Department.

“As a tourist, you know within the first few minutes of arriving in Barichara, that this place is special,” wrote Dubbert to The City Paper. “ It’s absolutely stunning and a national treasure.”

But the treasure is constantly under threat by nature’s wrath and man’s negligence. A gust of warm wind and a spark from a local kiln, could light up the town in ways one dare not imagine.

Dubbert was able to meet Fire Chief Marcos face to face and a friendship broke out between the two. The Santander-based Fire Chief explained the very limited amount of equipment they have to protect such a heritage site made worse by long, dry summers. Together they drafted a list of equipment and tools needed to protect Barichara.

This year, FWB Canada secured the donation of a 1981 Ford Anderson fire truck with a 1050-gallon tank. A donation from the community of Malispina, the truck could begin its journey from Vancouver Island to Barichara. With a tank ideally-suited for a town such as Barichara, the Ford Anderson remains parked at the FWB facility, after the Colombian Government passed into law, a regulation that fire trucks, ambulances and refuse compactors assembled before the year 2000, cannot enter the country; even if the entire bill of transport, and the truck’s nationalization, is footed by some generous Canadians.

The chances of Barichara getting its emerald green, low mileage, truck seems to be evaporating. For Dubbert, however, there are plenty of other countries waiting in the wings for this pristine machine. Hopefully, Barichara, may never need this truck, but it would be comforting to know, that it’s there.


  1. Thanks Richard for taking the time to cover our story and the difficulties which have arisen. If anyone can help us navigate Colombian Customs or has a different idea, I’d love to hear!
    We are still working on sending a shipping container full of fire fighting gear and equipment to Colombia, would be nice to be able to send the truck too.
    Cheers, Randy


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