Os Bombeiros – Portuguese Firefighters
“When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished.
What he does after that is all in the line of work.”
Edward F. Crocker
The bravery and skills of firefighters are greatly appreciated everywhere.
They are the true heroes of any society.
The Portuguese word ‘Bombeiro’ translates into English as ‘the person that pumps’. Far too modest a translation for one who dares to fight fire and risk their own life in order to save others.
History and Welfare
The first organised fire-fighting service in Portugal was the Company of Volunteers Firemen of Lisbon. Established in 1868. Nowadays, the Portuguese Bombeiros Service consists of a (mostly) voluntary force. Thousands of men and women enlisting for trainings between the ages of 18 and 45. Nationwide, 300 Fire Services operating.
Associaco Humanitaria dos Bombeiros Voluntaria Aljezur – AHBVA
Humanitarian Association of Aljezur Volunteer Firefighters
“Do well without looking to who”
Until The BVA (as the association is commonly known,) was established in 1975, Aljezur did not have a single ambulance. The absence in the village was noticed by a Major Jose Manuel da Cunha. In summer 1974 he was on holiday in Aljezur.
Upon his return home to Lisbon, he began organising the acquisition of an ambulance for Aljezur. Eventually, an association was formed and funds were raised. Mostly from local people, to purchase an ambulance. The BVA was born.
Currently, the BVA has 98 firemen (mostly volunteers) beside other employees/volunteers undertaking various roles (ie.administative). Other than extinguishing fires – domestic or in the countryside – some other incidents the bombeiros attend are:
- Delivering water to outlying properties. If you need water for irrigation or drinking, the bombeiros will deliver to your property.
- Rescuing people from cliffs. Many of the bombeiros are skilled in rock-climbing techniques.
- Rescuing animals. In the winter of 2017, the bombeiros were called to rescue a baby whale that had been washed onto Monte Clerigo beach!
- Retrieving people and animals stuck in wells.
- Attending car accidents.
- Providing first-aid treatment to locals.
- Supporting the community in the event of flooding, earthquakes or landslides.
- Assisting in underwater searches.
- Transporting accident victims and others in need to hospital.
Life as a bombeiro
We spoke with Joao Duarte, a volunteer bombeiro with the Aljezur brigade:
Joao has been a bombeiro for 30 years, since the age of 16. His incentive for joining was one of conscience. After witnessing the devastation a local fire had caused. He explained that many of the bombeiros in Aljezur have rural properties. Resultantly, their awareness of the destruction caused by fire is often the reason they join. Sometimes, bombeiros are following family tradition. Their fathers/grandfathers having been firefighters. Some joining because they enjoy the adrenalin rush when firefighting.
Joao also works as a Lab Technician at the Algarve University in Faro and musician. He plays trombone with the Bombeiros Philharmonic, as well as having played in a jazz band. He stated that bombeiros have a wide range of professions when they are not on duty.
As a volunteer, the law states a bombeiro must work 160 hours each year. In reality, this is more like 300, and often 12 hours a week.
Training as a Bombeiro
The BVA operate schemes for children and cadets. A great opportunity for children who want to be a fireman when they grow up, is getting involved with the service.
A fire-fighters’ training is intense. There are many simulated events that the fire-fighters are exposed to during training. One such exercise is that of cutting cars involved in accidents, to release trapped occupants. Also, another training is undertaken in learning to use breathing equipment, the usage of a defilibrator (a device used to shock the heart into restoring a normal rhythm, in cases of heart attacks), and of course first aid.
The Aljezur Bombeiros Music School
The BVA Philharmonic Band was established in 1988 and currently has 32 members. There is also a music school with 20 students. The band and the school were created as a social activity to encourage interaction within the Bombeiros. The band have performed locally as well as in Germany. The students include many children and great pride is taken in this successful venture. New students, of any age, are always welcome!
The BVA fleet of 22 vehicles includes all-terrain firefighting trucks, water-supply trucks, jeeps, and ambulances. There are also other vehicles with more specific equipment.
The water supply trucks have tanks with capacities of 5000/8000/15000 liters. Used to supply the actual firefighting trucks. Barragens and private swimming pools are also used to supply water if necessary.
The Bombeiros helicopters are stationed in Monchique, Loule, Tavira and Ourique.
Light – these helicopters carry 700 litres of water and up to 5 GIP personnel. Dropped to the ground fighting the fire manually. The GIP (Grupo de Intervenção de Proteção e Socorro) – Protection and Relief Intervention Group is a special branch of the GNR, formed 10 years ago. Their role is similar to that of the Bombers. They are called out to attend incidents such as mountain rescues, fires, landsides, collapsed buildings. Heavy – these helicopters carry 2000 litres of water at a time, which is dispersed directly onto the fire.
Continually seeking funding, the BVA welcome the public becoming members of the Association.
Membership offers attractive discouts at local services. Application are here www.bva.pt
Fire prevention is a major cause of concern. Particularly in the summer months. Each year, the governmant state dates between which it is illegal to light an outdoor fire. It is always best to personally check this information by contacting the Bombers.
Telephone: +351 282 990 140
Check our list of preventing a fire to start:
- Keep your land clean. Strim regularly and don’t leave dry, messy undergrowth
- Ensure that trees close to your home are regularly pruned. Do not over-hang the building. Are not surrounded by grasses and shrubs.
- Ensure compost heaps are well-maintained. The middle of a compost /dung heap gets incredibly hot, and they can spontaneously combust. Oily rags (particularly linseed oil) can also spontaneously ignite, if left crumpled after use.
- If you have visitors to your property, make sure they are aware of the danger of bbq’s. Throwing cigarette butts away. Keeping buckets of water or sand close to any fire, and plenty of ashtrays.
- Beware when using tools. Strimming with a metal blade is forbidden in the summer, as hitting a stone can cause a spark. Be aware of which direction the sparks are going when using an angle grinder.
- Store flammable liquids (petrol, gas bottles etc), firewood and vehicles away from any structure. Firewood collected during the summer should be stored beneath a fire-proof cover. Glass, bottles and mirrors should also be stored carefully, to eliminate the risk of ignition by reflection.
- If fire is necessary to clear your land, light it in the winter. On a day without wind. It is advisable to have someone with you and to carry your mobile phone, in case of emergency. Always consult the IPMA website beforehand – details below.
If you do need to report a fire or contact the emergency services,
Telephone 117 for forest fires & 112 for other emergencies
Other Fire considerations
Keep valuable documents and personal belongings in a fire-proof bag/box somewhere that you can access them in case of evacuation.
Ensure that any livestock you keep have access to water and a fire-proof shelter.
Leave enough width/height between structures and fences on your property, for fire engines to pass between.
General accident prevention
Do not be tempted to leave animals or people in parked cars during the summer months. The temperature inside a vehicle, even parked in the shade, can rise dramatically in a short time.
LACES is an anagram of a strategy designed by U.S firefighters. It is used by the Bombeiros and can also be applied at a personal level-
L… Lookouts. If you are having a fire, it’s advisable to have at least one other person with you, to observe any unpredictable spread of it.
A… Awareness. Be aware of changes in weather that can affect the fires density. Check a reliable weather-forecasting site before lighting a fire.
C… Communications. It makes sense to have your mobile phone with you, in case the fire becomes uncontrollable
E… Escape Routes. Ensure you have more than one way to leave your property/valley. Fire can approach from any direction, and change direction in an instant.
S… Safety Areas. Try to ensure you have some for you and your livestock.
If you are unfortunate enough to suffer a fire on your property, there are points to consider:
- Ashes can be toxic. If plastics have burnt, it can be dangerous to inhale the ashes.
- In a rural situation, it is advisable to plant barley just before the rain comes. Barley roots grow within a week, so the ground will soon be covered in green, live material, assisting further re-growth.
- Remove burnt trees and shrubs from your property, as there is a danger they may fall otherwise.
- Gather burnt branches and organic matter and form them in rows, following the contours of the land. When the rain comes, it will collect in these areas, promoting new growth and preventing top-soil erosion.
- Be aware that buried tree roots can continue to smolder underground for several weeks after a fire. It has been known for them to re-ignite a month later
Life as a bombeiro is unpredictable and requires much courage
and mental and physical strength. Joining the force is an act of
considerable commitment. The support of the bombeiros family and friends is crucial.
To suddenly be alerted to attend an emergency. Day or night, is disruptive. A huge sacrifice.
And these great people do it voluntarily!
A final note – whilst fighting fires, the bombeiros are heavily dependent on the public for donations of clothing and food. Also stay alert for donations to support our local hero.
Pictures by Cait Caulfield Photography