To the Rescue

Raúl Rodríguez has served as a firemen at Lanzarote’s main fire station in Arrecife for over 20 years. We spoke to him about his job and how well Lanzarote is prepared for emergencies.

I know my colleagues better than my brothers.

Every kid wants to be a fireman when they grow up, Raúl, but how easy is it?
It’s not easy at all. You have to train, study and pass some very tough selection procedures. I’m from Gran Canaria, and didn’t make the selection when I applied there. Like many firemen, I applied in other areas and ended up getting selected in Lanzarote. I’ve been here ever since. Selections don’t happen that often – there have only been three in Lanzarote in the last 20 years.

What’s your typical week like?
There are five separate shifts of firemen, and we all work in the same teams. We work a couple of long 24-hour shifts at the Parque de Bomberos (fire station) and get the rest of the week free.

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On the average shift we’ll check the fire engines and tools, and do practices and training every day. There’s plenty of free time, and a lot of us use that to study or work out at the gym. I’m studying two courses at the moment, for example, including a specialist English language course for emergency responders. We’re on call constantly during the shift, and have to be ready to respond at all times.

How many call outs do you get on an average 24-hours shift?
About three. We responded to 1,200 call outs last year and we’re almost up to 1,000 this year already. But they don’t happen regularly, of course. Some days are always busier than others.

What sort of call outs do you get?
Everything from fires in homes, cars and rubbish containers; mountain and sea rescue and traffic accidents to checking fire alarm systems and dealing with floods caused by rain.

Do you have fixed jobs within your group of colleagues?
No, it’s the opposite. We all have a title: Bombero 1, 2, 3 etc, and we rotate each task. That means we all take turns driving the fire engine, managing hoses, carrying out first aid etc. Every single one of us is trained in many different skills – We all have HGV driving licences and boat permits, we’re all constantly trained and updated in mountain rescue techniques, use of cutting equipment and many other things. Last year, for example, a group of us travelled to Spain to train in mountain rescue techniques using ropes. Sometimes there are jobs that we know one member performs better than others, simply because of experience or chance, but usually we all do everything in rotation. I’ve worked with the same bunch of guys for years – I know them better than my brothers.

Is the island well covered for emergencies?
I think so. There’s our station in Arrecife and another smaller base in Playa Blanca. That means that nowhere on the island is more than 25 minutes away, although the speed of response can depend on the time of day and the amount of traffic on the roads. If there was another station up in Haría I think we’d be more than prepared.

Do roadworks in the resorts cause problems?
They can do. In Puerto del Carmen, for example, it’s all one-way now, and bottlenecks can quickly form. We’ll still get there, but it’s more difficult than before.

Does Lanzarote offer much risk?
No more than most places. We haven’t had a serious fire with fatalities for a long time, and of course, there’s no risk of the forest fires that other islands and mainland Spain suffer every summer. We seem to get more traffic accidents, though.

How many cats up trees do you rescue?
(Laughs) We get about 15 to 20 of those a year. What usually happens is we set up the ladder, climb up and the cat jumps down.

What happens if you get two calls at the same time? Is there a back up service?
First we’ll prioritise. If we’re on our way to rescue a cat and a call comes in reporting a road accident, the cat will have to wait. Also, if we’re called up north, the firemen in Playa Blanca will come up to Arrecife, where there’s more likelihood of another call coming in. With three calls we’ve got problems, but that doesn’t really happen.

Are false call outs a problem?
They used to be, but now the 112 emergency line sorts that out for us.

Which call outs do you most fear?
Traffic accidents. Not because we’re in any danger, but because of the things you see. Horrible sights that you never get used to and never forget.

And the riskiest?
Fires. I had to rescue two old people from a burning home once, in full protection with oxygen, and that was pretty dangerous. Older colleagues will remember the huge 1994 fire at the Gran Hotel. We also volunteer if disasters happen elsewhere – a group of us spent days on Tenerife when a building collapsed last year.

What are your busiest times of year?
Summer, simply because there are more people on the island, as well as a lot of fiestas. There’s always a lot of work after a heavy rainfall, too. Christmas isn’t too bad, but New Year can bring trouble – I saw this year in by the roadside dealing with an accident.

Do you have any advice to offer people that would make your life a little easier?
We deal with so many different types of emergency that it would be impossible to list all the advice. The main thing is just to use your common sense – on the road, in the home, out in the countryside.

Finally, some of our readers want to know if you’re doing another calendar this year?
(Laughs) I don’t think so. There are no plans. We’ve done three already.

Clinging on for dear life
In September this year, young triathlete star Marcos Knight took his dog Max up a mountain near Yaiza to see the sun rise. In the darkness he stumbled on a cliff and ended up hanging on for dear life. With his free hand he managed to call the emergency services, and firemen soon arrived – guided by Max- to rescue him.

This is just one example of the valuable work the island’s emergency services carry out all the time. Marcos and his family are far from the only people to be immensely grateful for their work.