FIVE YEARS ago, I wrote my first article on the Bombeiros in the Algarve to help the general public understand more about the association. Five years later and with many more new expatriates ensconced here, I decided it would be worth reminding established residents and explaining to new arrivals why we hold fundraising events and make donations to our local Bombeiros.
Early in 1998, I was presented with a cheque and asked to use the money for a medical cause. I knew very little about the Bombeiros, but realised that Lagoa Voluntary Bombeiros Station was situated on the notorious EN125. We had no motorway and everyday, without fail, we were aware of accidents taking place on this road. For this reason, I dared to venture into the unknown at the Lagoa Voluntary Bombeiros Station and opened up a can of worms. I found a team of dedicated men and women working as firefighters and ambulance crew without the correct clothing, little equipment and, more importantly, without adequate training. I then became a Voluntary Bombeiro myself and did my ambulance crewmembers course. As a nurse and trained first aider, I was eagerly accepted, but also because I was so determined to help improve matters and make others aware of the problems being faced by many stations.
During the past eight years, the aim has been to raise funds and purchase clothing and equipment. Considering the number of charities there are here, many of which rely on the expatriate community, we feel very grateful for what has been achieved. Thanks to this understanding and awareness, other stations now have fundraisers and are receiving much needed clothing and equipment.
In the Algarve, there are Bombeiros in the areas of Olhão, Tavira, Faro and Loulé, which work for the câmara and thus have their salaries paid and equipment provided. These Bombeiros also have volunteers who do not receive a salary but have any heavy expenses paid for by the câmara. You will see the name outside these stations as just ‘Bombeiros’ or ‘Bombeiros Voluntários’.
Indeed, you may wonder why in some areas the Bombeiros are voluntary and others are funded by the câmara, as I did. It has been explained to me that when the Bombeiros were first set up in the Algarve, for example in Loulé a station was set up over 77 years ago, they were originally solely for firefighting – going to their local câmaras and forming an association. Therefore, funds raised and any donations made to these Bombeiros may not be kept by them but must be forwarded to the câmara. If you raise funds for the Bombeiros in these areas, I would suggest that you make enquiries as to what is needed at that particular station and purchase and present the required goods personally.
Over the years, the Algarve has grown and other smaller Bombeiros have been set up, which are known as Bombeiros Voluntários. In addition, with the growth in size and population, especially in the central and western Algarve, the Voluntary Bombeiros have an even greater and more demanding job on their hands. They, therefore, rely heavily on the working men and women, who give up their spare time voluntarily, and on donations, gifts and sponsorship.
Each station has to supply their own vehicles and, once bought, they have to be equipped. There are different ambulances and fire engines for different services.
There is an emergency service known as VMER (Viatura Médica de Emergência Rápida) and doctors and nurses from the Barlavento Hospital have been specifically trained for this service.
If you have an emergency, you should call 112 – this number puts you through to the police and the service is provided by INEM (Instituto Nacional de Emergência Médica).
As a medical situation, your call is then put through to CODU (Centro de Orientação de Doentes Urgentes) and a decision is made on the type and seriousness of the emergency. They then contact the Bombeiros nearest to the scene and, if necessary, VMER will be contacted. Therefore, it is always very important to be clear and specific about why you require an ambulance. For example, if you suspect a person has had a heart attack, VMER will be needed, as they are the only service allowed to carry a defibrillator – equipment a heart attack victim may require.
Ambulances throughout the Algarve do not carry defibrillators unless a doctor accompanies a patient. This is not a local ruling, but is legislated by the Ministry of Health. I feel really angry with this because these machines are so easy to use. The machine has a voice recording and tells you exactly what to do. In the UK, large companies, shopping malls, railway and bus stations have them set up and ready for use. Furthermore, should someone have a cardiac arrest, these machines can be the difference between life and death.
If, when you call 112, the person answering does not speak English, ask immediately for CODU. The doctor or nurse who answers will speak English, but remember speak slowly and clearly. They will ask for your phone number and directions and the more information you can give, the quicker they can get the correct service to you.
There are times when you may feel annoyed at how long the Bombeiros take to get to the scene but this is not necessarily the station’s fault. Quite often there is a time delay between calling 112 and CODU making a decision as to what is required. However, as soon as the nearest station receives the call, they are normally at the scene within five minutes. The Bombeiros say, “please, don’t shout at us, as soon as CODU call us we respond immediately.”
As with many things, there are people pulling against each other and this is also the case with INEM and the Bombeiros. INEM is ruled by the Ministry for Health and the Bombeiros come under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as are the police. Therefore, at times, it gets very political and it all boils down to the fact that they both want to be in charge. The people at the top will argue and fight, but the people at the bottom trying to do the job are the ones that suffer.
In order to obtain a clearer picture of the service, how it is operated and how it is funded, I presented some questions to Commandant Vítor Manuel Granadeiro Rio Alves from Lagoa Bombeiros and you can read my interview in next week’s issue of The Resident.
In the meantime, here is some important information …
I realise that the expatriate community supports many charities in the Algarve, which is the reason why I only ask ONCE a year for support for the Lagoa Voluntary Bombeiros. Please join us on April 1 for our Annual Dinner/Dance at the Fatacil Restaurant at 7.30pm. Tickets cost 25 euros each and include a three-course meal with wine/soft drinks. For tickets or information, contact Val Johnstone on 282 471 550 or 917 824 369 or Maria on 916 136 611.
by VAL JOHNSTONE