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Faces of 2013: Despite some council objections, Elgin builds friendship with Chileans

Outdated firefighting emergency services equipment least U.S. standards is set for shipping last summer from Elgfirefighters Chile. The gear was

Outdated firefighting and emergency services equipment, at least to U.S. standards, is set for shipping last summer from Elgin to firefighters in Chile. The gear was donated by fire departments and hospitals throughout northern Illinois. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 4, 2014 6:03AM

This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our local communities in 2013

ELGIN — Elgin Fire Lt. Bob Bedard volunteered on his own time last summer oversee a visit by a delegation of Chileans from Elgin’s sister city of Cauquenes and from the town of Rancagua.

The latter is the hometown of Enoch Fuentes, who serves as community chaplain with the Elgin Police Department and pastor with Evangelical Covenant Church on Larkin Avenue.

Fuentes was visiting him homeland in 2010 when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami hit Chile. The seismic event did significant damage to large parts of the nation.

In February 2011, a group of firefighters from Elgin took a goodwill mission to Rancagua to help train public safety workers there on used firefighting and rescue equipment donated by the Elgin, South Elgin, Hampshire and Pingree Grove fire departments.

In January, The Centre in downtown Elgin hosted a benefit that led to sending Cauquenes fire hoses, turnout gear, helmets, boots, nozzles, electronics, medical equipment, other equipment and a fire engine — all outdated and surplus by U.S. standards — with the Chilean recipients picking up the shipping tab. Also included were children’s books.

The equipment came from fire departments in MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) Division II, including South Elgin, Hampshire, Burlington, Streamwood, West Dundee and Bartlett. And in March, Bedard and others went to Chile to train public safety workers on the equipment.

Then, in May, Elgin Councilman Rich Dunne and his, wife, Judy visited Chile on their own time representing Elgin at the Cauquenes celebration of the town’s founding in 1742.

Trip expenses

The Chilean delegation that visited Elgin in summer included Cauquenes city auditor-manager Elena Aranis Vilches, Cauquenes Councilman Felipe Vera, Rancagua firefighter and rescue specialist José Manuel Lavín Benavente; Cauquenes Superintendent of Firefighters Victor Manuel Yevenes Marquez; Rancagua firefighter/paramedic and disaster management instructor Edgardo Andres Escobar; and Maria Ibarra, a journalist from Chile’s capital, Santiago.

The travellers paid for their own airfare and luggage costs, with Elgin locals picking up meals and other expenses.

While the trip included sightseeing, wining and dining, it also included looks at how the city of Elgin functions, with visits to city departments.

The city of Elgin contributed $2,257 to cover lodging and $212.77 to cover breakfast costs at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites. City vehicles were used to ferry the delegation, but no city money was used for fuel, which was purchased by Sister Cities.

City Manager Sean Stegall devoted about 20 hours on matters related to the visit, with his time valued at $1,775. Staff members Cherie Murphy and Laura Valdez spent a combined 24 hours on Chilean visit matters, with that time worth $851.

Prior to the visit, the city council approved providing some of the funding related to the Chileans’ stay, with council members Terry Gavin and John Prigge the only “no: votes for doing so. As recently as Dec. 20, on his Facebook page, Prigge called the visit a “taxpayer-funded, Club Med-type vacation we lathered onto the Chileans.”

Continued contact

The above efforts have resulted in Rancagua and Cauquenes developing their nation’s best urban search and rescue teams, according to Bedard.

During their stay, the Chileans noticed an Elgin Sweeper during Elgin’s Fourth of July prepared. That led to a visit to the company, and Bedard said, “The 2014 budget in Cauquenes calls for the purchase of a refurbished Elgin Sweeper.”

He also noted there is a photo exhibit of Elgin on loan and currently is on display in the town’s cultural center. And the Cauquenes fire department would like to send a member to Elgin for training and/or have an Elgin firefighter head to Chile to train its members.

“There also are plans for continued cultural exchanges, and it is the intent of our city to send an envoy to a trade show in Chile later in 2014,” Bedard said.

For his part, via email, Councilman Vera stated, “I loved the City of Elgin’s infrastructure and organization.”

Vera noted that Cauquenes has implemented various things the delegation noticed in Elgin such as how to decorate the city and that the delegation has talked to schools about the trip.

Down the road, the Chilean city also would like to export various products to Elgin, which “would bring us closer as sister cities,” Vera wrote.

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