August 4th, 2020. A world which was starting to relax a little more after the first impact of Covid-19 looked at its mobile phone and was astonished to see dozens of videos of an explosion that devastated Beirut, the Lebanese capital. Now, one year after the disaster, official figures show that 205 people were killed and thousands more were injured, and an incalculable trail of damage has left an indelible scar on the city.
When the clouds of dust and the rubble gave way to silence, the international community mobilised itself. On board one of the hundreds of flights that carried aid to the epicentre of the catastrophe was a contingent of volunteers from Malaga province - firefighters who, without knowing it, were creating a humanitarian link between one end of the Mediterranean and the other.
That first expedition was organised by a group of specialists who use dogs to rescue victims of disasters, following the Arcón method (Gerccma). They were: the head of the Provincial Fire Consortium of Malaga, Javier Luque; a corporal of the consortium, Jair Pereira; a firefighter from the same group, Pedro Luque.
They travelled with Jaime Parejo, who founded the Arcón method and is a member of Seville city fire brigade, and David Cabrero, a firefighter with Almuñécar council.
Now a new contingent is about to head to Beirut, led by Manuel Lavigne, a retired fireman who has worked for Marbella council for half of his life. Javier Luque, from the first expedition, will be with him, and so will J. Antonio Solano, from the Marbella fire brigade, and Antonio Medina, Fran Macías and Sergio Hernández, from the consortium. Pedro Mena, the founder of a new method of fighting forest fires, is not able to go with them, but is providing materials.
At the end of August they will travel to the Lebanese capital, where the consequences of the accident are combined with an economic, social and government crisis which is affecting the whole country. "They need basic items such as clothes, food, medication and training," says Lavigne.
These firefighters from Malaga province will be received by the Lebanese Cadets, a youth organisation similar to the Scouts, which is going to create a voluntary force to fight forest fires.
Tamer, the leader of this NGO, told SUR via WhatsApp (the phone line continually cuts out) that right now they are in need of "fire-fighting equipment, outfits and first aid items". He also said that the training needs are maybe as important as the equipment, so he is very grateful for the volunteers who will be travelling to the city.
As well as the firefighters who will be on their way soon, the cooperation of Marbella council has been very important in creating this humanitarian link. They have provided equipment and materials and also allocated storage space at the Department of Festivals to serve as a logistics base during the preparations for the trip.
La Cañada donations
La Cañada shopping centre has also taken part by collecting donations, and is covering the cost of an industrial container which will be sent to Lebanon with everything that has been collected. Schools in Marbella have participated by donating clothes and other materials, and an anonymous business owner has donated new shoes, moved by the wave of solidarity sparked by that the Marbella firefighters, who have also mobilised families and groups elsewhere on the Costa del Sol to support the cause.
The training sessions for the Lebanese Cadets will be organised in cycles, and a lorry which has been adapted for firefighting will also be delivered for them to use.
The first stage of their training will take place in the late summer and, precisely because of the time of year, it will focus on fighting forest fires.
Later, thanks to this link which has been created between Marbella and Beirut, other specialists will travel to Lebanon to provide training in first aid, fires in industrial buildings, urban fires and other essential aspects of the job.