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Wildland firefighting suppression training: Mexican firefighters train in Bemidji

Eleven Mexican firefighters from Cuernavaca, Morelos, are at Bemidji State University participating in wildland firefighting training. Rolando Noyes, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources firefighter from Cook, Minn., demonstrates the use of a firefighting shelter. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Traveling to northwest Minnesota from Mexico, 11 Mexican firefighters made Bemidji their destination for sharpening their wildland firefighting skills.

The firefighters arrived Sunday in Bemidji for a week of training in wildland fire suppression through classes taught by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The classes are being held at Bemidji State University.

The group includes 10 firefighters from the city of Cuernavaca, located 45 minutes southwest of Mexico City in the state of Morelos, and one state firefighter. They are in Bemidji with Daniel Castillo Delgado, who is from the Consulate of Mexico in St. Paul and is helping translate for the group.

Cuernavaca has a Minnesota connection as it is a sister city to Minneapolis. The group learned about the training in Bemidji through the Minnesota DNR. The classes are held annually throughout the state to train new wildland firefighters.

"We are excited to have the Mexican firefighters in our class," said B.J. Glesener, Minnesota DNR FireWise communities specialist, who is coordinating the classes, in a news release. "It is always fun and educational to share information with folks doing the same job in other parts of the world."

Glesener added that the Mexican firefighters "are faced with wildland urban interface just like we have here."

Due to the dry weather in Cuernavaca and the canyons that surround the city, Cuernavaca faces many wildfires, including some in inhabited areas, said Jose Antonio Lazcano, who is the commander of the municipal firefighters in Cuernavaca.

Lazcano oversees wildfire firefighters, rescue and paramedics.

The state of Morelos, where Cuernavaca is the capital city, covers a broad area, said Fernando Serrano, who represents the state commission of water and environment. He said the state has to protect against wildfires in forests as well as the five federal and five state nature reserves in Morelos.

"It's a great responsibility," said Serrano, adding that it's also a great honor to do.

He said there have been many wildfires due to global warming in the area and "they're predicting even more due to global warming." He said Morelos has a diverse ecosystem and it must be protected.

Lazcano said the Minnesota DNR training is excellent.

The focus of the training includes fire behavior, weather, tools used in wildland firefighting, pump operation and radio communications. The training also includes a field exercise for practical applications of classroom concepts.

Serrano said the group from Mexico plans to take with it "all the good things that we learned here" and put them into practice when they return home.

"We really appreciate it," he said, noting that he is grateful for the efforts of all those who helped make the trip possible.

Serrano said he hopes the trip will open new channels of cooperation with foreign governments. He added that the group from Mexico would be proud to host Minnesota DNR representatives in Cuernavaca to show them the area's diversity of climate and the way their firefighters work.

Meanwhile, as a thick layer of snow falls on the Bemidji area, the group is getting a wintry taste of northwest Minnesota.

"It's very different from Cuernavaca," Lazcano said. "Very cold."

Serrano said it's great to see the snow.

One thing, however, is the same around the world, he said.

"Fire is fire," Serrano said.