Jimmy Abreu was four years old when his father took him to see a forest fire. Did that experience mark you? Forever.
At 26 years old, He is in charge of the Fire Management Division of the Ministry of the Environment and a fervent defender of Dominican natural resources.
Originally from Jarabacoa (La Vega), his vocation runs in his family. His father, Gerónimo Abreu, is in charge of the National Fire Management Program and a 35-year veteran forest firefighter linked to the forest. “He did not go to my high school graduation because he was in Bahoruco, facing a fire,” says Jimmy in Listín Diario’s Green Encounter. He was also absent on many Christmases for the same reason. But Jimmy understood very well his father’s job, his warrior spirit, his sacrifices and his contributions to nature conservation. And that’s why he didn’t hesitate to follow in his footsteps. In fact, being part of what is considered the best brigade in the country, the one from La Vega, is an honor that the young industrial engineer with specialties in fire management in Mexico and the United States also assumes as a commitment.
Jimmy doesn’t remember how many fires he’s been on. He was uniformed as a forest firefighter in 2011 when he was just 15 years old, thus officially starting his work in front of the line of fire. Three years later he would have to deal with the Valle Nuevo fire, “perhaps one of the biggest we’ve ever had,” admits his father. He repeated the feat in the same place a year later, in 2015, the same year that he became part of the Ministry.
Afraid? No, Jimmy replies: stress.
“Now, in the fires of the Sierra de Bahoruco, when we went through Fondo Negro and saw the mountains covered with smoke, one gets stressed and wants to get there faster, wants to see what is really happening. One surrenders to a level that as long as there is fire we do not want to leave. He says that in September of last year, in the Aceitillar (Pedernales) fire, everything was under control but there was still a lot of smoke. “We went out and when we saw the fire from another point we went back to see what else could be done and to leave personnel there.”
“We cannot be afraid. Our commitment is to protect as much of the forest as possible. We try to focus better on what we are saving. In the Sierra, that fire burned practically 2 percent of the protected area, but we didn’t allow that fire to burn the other 90 percent,” explains Jimmy.
TECHNOLOGY, AN ALLY
Jimmy relies on technology -beyond the coordinate system- as an ally to provide a rapid response to the incidence of a forest fire.
During a fire in Loma del Toro, also in the Sierra de Bahoruco, he remembers that they were working with a coordinate line and that the boys who accompanied him said that there was a road that could be used. “I said that it was like one more kilometer of trail that would be done if we used that road. I calculated another coordinate right there and told them that if we did it around here it would be more work, but 780 forest tasks would be saved. It’s a lot of forest, they said, and we did it that way. I try to focus on that: not what we’re losing, but everything we’re saving.”
TRAINING AND VOCATION
Father and son sometimes spend weeks without going to the office of the Ministry of the Environment because they are either on the hill facing a column of fire or they are in the fire management detection and monitoring center that works at the Technical Institute of Higher Studies in Environment and Natural Resources of Jarabacoa. A space that, as Gerónimo Abreu says, “has never worked as it should because the internet is very bad; but the idea is that there is a technical body to be in charge of monitoring the fires”.
“I wish volunteers would come because when they come to see there we can find a way to improve the response capacity,” says the chief of the Dominican forest firefighters. The around 325 forest firefighters in the country are not enough to provide assistance, especially in the high season, which runs from February to April.
“There is a lack of personnel, but trained personnel with a vocation,” says Gerónimo Abreu.
He points out that the good news is that the Ministry of the Environment ordered the appointment of forest firefighters who were not appointed. “We have 169 firefighters ready to appoint, but when we evaluate them, only 141 qualify to be appointed because there is another issue, which is the vocation of the people. It is not about money, because there really is no money that pays for the work of the forest firefighter”, considers Geronimo. The ideal, he points out, is that they be people linked to the countryside, of good physical build and willing to spend a lot of time working in the mountains. Fires are fought by isolating the fuel. “All the people in the countryside know what to do to deal with a fire. What is it that we do? Pruning and weeding in common terms. What you need to know is where to do it and how to do it”. And a lot of vocation to assume the commitment. Knowing Jimmy, and his passion for the job, is worth as a source of inspiration.
___________ RELATED LINK
A national priority: approve the 2021-2030 Fire Management Strategy