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V E R A C R U Z, M E X I C O

USLA/ Club Tortuga/ Red Cross Team Trains the Mexican Navy!
In The Gulf Coast Region we just had an incredible experience that I wanted to share with all of you.

In mid-November a team of 5 traveled from Galveston, Texas to Veracruz-Boca del Rio, Veracruz, Mexico to work with the Civil Protection of Boca Del Rio/Veracruz and the Mexican Navy to train over 120 professionals in basic water rescue techniques. The team consisted of Beach Patrol Director and Gulf Coast President Vic Maceo, myself (Assistant Director and Vice President), Supervisor Rob Kite, Supervisor Dave Paris, and Senior Guard Coley Williams. All are United States Lifesaving (USLA) and Club Tortuga members/instructors and Vic and Peter are also Red Cross instructors. USLA is the organization that certifies beach guards in the states and Club Tortuga is an affiliated branch that focuses on relations with and training of Mexican Lifeguards and Emergency Response Professionals.

Three years ago we started an exchange program with the Municipalities of Veracruz and neighboring Boca Del Rio, which are “sister cities” with Galveston. At that time they both had brand new beach guarding programs. In that area of Mexico there are no other beach guards in the vicinity, so they had no other guidance other than the beach knowledge of a group of fishermen and surfers and what they could figure out from watching the popular American series “Guardianes de la Bahia” con David Hasselhoff y Pamela Anderson.
They were doing pretty well already, but a series of training classes down there and small groups being sent to Galveston for one of our two annual lifeguard academies helped to hone their skills.
 
   

The training classes down there have been open invitation at no charge with as many as 103 people in attendance. At this point there have been almost 300 professionals from all over the state trained in the basics of water rescue, from groups as varied as the Mexican Army, Navy, Beach Guards, Paramedics, Firemen, Police, volunteer lifeguard groups, and the Mexican equivalent of the Coast Guard to name a few. The beaches in the Veracruz area alone have gone from an average annual drowning rate of almost 30 a year to about 4-5 a year for the past 3 years!

   
 
This year we ran two classes. One for all of the civilian groups (although a couple of army guys attended) which certified the students in the Red Cross “Basic Water Rescue” Class. Those who were good enough swimmers continued on to be certified in Red Cross Lifeguarding as well as completing the module in Open Water Lifeguarding.

The entire group was also given the opportunity to complete the Red Cross “Emergency Response” class which was taught as a joint effort with ourselves and Paramedics from the Mexican Red Cross who work with the “Proteccion Civil” (Civil Protection), which is an umbrella for all the emergency response groups in the area, including the beach guards.

After a week of training, we staged a big, public competition, involving lots of running, swimming, a wall climb, and obstacle course. Following this physical test, the Boca Del Rio Guards hosted a completion ceremony, banquet, and fiesta.

After half a day to recover from the required tequila guzzling and jalapeno eating competition that seems to be a requirement after these grueling courses, the team moved to the sunny vacation spot of Anton Lizardo Navy Base, where we checked in for a five day stay in the Mexican equivalent of Annapolis. From there we ran a 3 day course for the school of Engineering which included some front line sailors, and the Mexican equivalent of Navy Seals. Once we adapted to the 5am bugle wakeup call, pushups, and raising of the flag ceremony we really had a good time. They even let us shoot some big guns when we had free time! In the mornings, we would do our water response material and in the afternoons, the Cruz Roja Mejicana medics from Boca del Rio would arrive to help with the first aid and CPR components. We trained about 60 in all and the thing was a really big success for both sides. The cadets even organized a special marching presentation in our honor for the last day followed by a huge, Mexican style BBQ.

   
 
Our basic philosophy is that we are there to provide a service which doesn’t exist yet in Mexico- standardized water response training. We feel that if the know-how already exists in the local community, its better that the information comes from within. For that reason, in the medical components, we try to take a backseat, and let the Mexican Nationals do the driving. We do feel it is entirely appropriate to share lifeguarding and water safety information, as no real standard is yet established.

Our goal is to train enough people to be instructors, so that they will be entirely self- sufficient, then get out of the way.

 

Now that this group is becoming more self sufficient, we are turning our attention to the future. With the help of Bob Burnside and Matt Carl, from Club Tortuga and Elias de la Cerda, a local journalist/professional translator, we are working on cleaning up the Manual which Club Tortuga has already translated, and making it more relevant for Latin America. Our contacts in the area have expressed a considerable amount of interest in working towards a national Mexican Lifeguarding Association. They want to host a competition as bait to get everyone in the same room and talking. We would like to assist them by coming up with a workable manual they can use as a base, helping them to host this event, put them in contact with other agencies in Mexico, and help design a basic training class and minimum training requirements which would be realistic for the beginning of establishing a “water culture”. Something along the lines of what we would require of a Professional Rescuer class on this side. Down there, certificates, cards, and patches are very important as they validate a professional since there are, as yet, no national standards. Our hope is that USLA will move towards certification geared for professionals who work aquatic emergencies. Not only could we offer this training in our local communities, but we could translate it into Spanish and offer it to Mexico as a base on which to build. It’s an important time for the profession of lifesaving in Mexico and we are honored to be a part of it.


   
 
We can’t express how rewarding the opportunity to work with these groups has been. Working with people this motivated, enthusiastic, professional, and appreciative has really renewed our lifesaving spirit on the Gulf Coast for all of us who have been fortunate enough to have contact with our Mexican counterparts. Each time I go down there and see the difference this exchange has made on the beaches and in the communities, it reminds me why many of us stay in this line of work.

It renews the feeling that despite the obvious difficulties of working in the public safety domain, there are rewards to be found which are greater than in any other type of profession.

Although we have been fortunate to have the catalyst of these experiences in Mexico to bring this home, we all have the opportunity, through the service of others, to find these same rewards in our very own communities.

   
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