Volunteers with Global Mission Readiness trained rescue workers in swift-water and high-angle rescue on a recent mission to Peru. (Submitted photo)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

For those fortunate enough to live in a First World country, the easiest way to deal with a bug infestation is to call an exterminator. One of the more common methods for dealing with the same problem in a less prosperous nation is to set a fire. In the middle of the living room.

“On our way to a training, we came across a a two-story brick home and smoke roiling out of the upstairs windows,” said Don Davis, chief executive officer of Global Mission Readiness (GMR), a Keizer-based program providing training to emergency response and rescue organizations. “We could hear the crackling of the fire outside the house. We ran up to the house and started knocking on the door, when we didn’t get a response, we boosted one of the guys up to the second-floor window to take a look. He got down and said there was a fire in the middle of the room.”

The group members started pounding on the door and heard some shuffling from inside. A woman opened the door and began yelling at them, asking what they were doing. When they responded through an interpreter that her house was on fire, the response wasn’t the expected one.

“She said, ‘No, I set that on purpose.’ She was trying to smoke the bugs out,” Davis said. “It just blew me away, she’s probably been doing that her entire life, but it’s so unsafe. Not only could the fire get out of control, but breathing in the carbon monoxide is so unhealthy.”

It was one of Davis’ most memorable experiences from a recent trip to Peru to train local emergency workers in water and high-angle rope rescue. It was also a reminder of how much work he has ahead of him.

“Just a little education could make a huge difference and that’s the the mission of GMR,” said Davis, a 20-year veteran of emergency services work as a firefighter and paramedic. “We want to prepare the local responders in these countries to do their work using best practices and task them with going back to educate others in their community.”

It was the terrain of mountainous Peru that inspired the curriculum of rope and water rescue. The country’s borders straddle a large section of the Andes Mountains from the north to the south and travel along narrow mountain passes is especially hazardous. On a trip earlier this year, Davis and other volunteers had their pictures taken after they loaded a bus headed into the interior of the country. The photographs would have been used to identify them if something happened on their journey.

“Motor vehicle accidents are one of their leading problems and they usually involve trucks or tour buses falling off high cliffs into the water,” Davis said.

While many of the responders are brilliant in their resourcefulness, most simply don’t have the correct tools for many of the tasks they encounter. Davis visited a rescue organization in Brazil to perform a needs assessment as part of the trip and left stunned by what he saw.

“They have an ambulance, but no water truck. The volunteers respond and use equipment from another department,” he said.

To that end, GMR travels with donated equipment – on this trip, ropes and flotation devices among other items – that is left for local responders to use.

If he ever had any doubt about the impact his organization has, the trip was a huge stride in alleviating it. Prior to to the trip, Davis was adamant about keeping participants to 25, but the organizer on the ground in Caraz sent out an invitation to all 15 of the country’s emergency response department. Representatives from 13 turned out and the student body swelled to 42. That wasn’t the only surprise, however.

“While I was there they announced they were forming a coalition to share resources and training. It was just a total shock and it started as a result of the initial training in February,” Davis said. Five of the participating organizations agreed to become members of the coalition.

Thanks to the generosity of many donors, GMR will soon be expanding its operations even further.

“We were in three countries last year. This year, we had nine missions in six countries. Next year, we’re branching out to Africa,” Davis said. “We have plenty of places to go to, we’ve got more than 50 volunteers, it’s the financial aspect that’s always our biggest hurdle. But, if we have the resources, we’re going to go where we’re needed.”

For more information about Global Mission Readiness and opportunities to get involved or donate, visit www.globalmissionreadiness.org.