Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Just to prove I'm not the only one here in Salvador that has crazy adventures without even leaving the house, I'm going to reprint this email I received today from my friend Pardal. Pardal is the driving force behind the incredibly informative Bahia Online and also runs Cana Brava Records in Pelourinho. I've made a couple notes in square brackets for the non-Portuguese speakers out there.
If your building/house is burning down here in Salvador, don't count on well-organized, well-equipped bombeiros [firemen] to show up.

Approaching 4 a.m. this morning a car in the garage in our building caught fire (don't ask me how). The fire eventually spread to a total of 6 cars, and in the meantime we residents skedaddled down the back stairway in panic, with smoke and the sound of explosions coming up.

Talk about a rude awakening!

Half an hour later or so a fire truck pulled up, with barely any water in the tank, the barely water soon exhausted. But there was another truck on the way, it took another half an hour or so, the only other functioning truck in this city of millions (these two trucks had been broken down and had beer repaired yesterday evening, thank god!). Two other trucks (four in Salvador?) are still not running.

Two old ladies hadn't come down, one bedridden, the other the aged mother of a guy in the building who'd been told by some moron that the fire was no big deal. The guy'd descended, leaving his mother up there to look after the other woman (his mother-in-law) because of the idiot advice, and soon thereafter it was impossible to get back up that back stairway. I know because I tried and it was thick, black, blinding sooty smoke...very scary.

There was a chefe [fire chief] there. I asked him if there was one mask with a breathing apparatus anywhere in Salvador, told him I'd get in a taxi and go get it.

He responded that the firemen were doing everything they could.

I said no, there were two old ladies (at least) trapped up there, and asked if he could find out about a mask.

He said I was nervous. I said no, there were two trapped women, he said...

You get the idea. Total incompetent dumb fuck!

So the son, one brave fireman, and myself got into the smoky elevator and went up (all three of us scared shitless), stopping at several floors along the way to see if we'd be able to breathe, hoping we wouldn't get trapped. We got to the women and brought them down. There were several other older people up there and we got them down as well (I haven't felt so young for quite some time!).

The Corpo do Bombeiros [Fire Department] is run by o Estado da Bahia [the State of Bahia], run (down) by Jacques Wagner [our current state governor]. Broken and non-existent equipment! No funding! A disgustingly dangerous disgrace!

Well. That was alarming. I wrote Pardal and told him thank goodness most of the city is constructed of non-flammable materials. When I lived in Putney, Vermont, I knew a guy who worked on the (much more organized and equipped) volunteer fire department, and he told me the majority of the fires they got called to were car fires. I figure that's why even though there's no annual inspection of cars here (even for such minor safety equipment as say... brakes) every car is required to have a fire extinguisher in it, with a valid one-year sticker, and they will ticket you for it if you don't. I know- I've been ticketed.

Stories like this are why my house bristles with smoke detectors and fire safety equipment. My house, as I mentioned in this previous post, is not built exclusively of non-flammable materials.

Which reminds me: I need to check the validation on my fire extinguisher...


Stephanie said...

I didnt know you had to keep a fire extinguisher in your car! Do you think that is just in Salvador? We don't have one in our car...and I don't recall seeing one in anyone else's car..but I havent really looked either.

Crazy, crazy story. I have very little faith in the police, bombeiros, and samu here. I see them driving around constantly, but they never seem to be going anywhere. And when they do get somewhere, it has taken quite a bit of time, and is usually too late. Like the case of one of the Motoboys here in our neighborhood. Driving to fast, cut off a big dump truck, he hit him and dragged him a little ways and died on the scene. Took Samu 22 minutes to get there and he had already passed. Not to say he would have lived if they had gotten there sooner, but that is a LONG time to wait for help when you've had a serious accident.

Last year I had an accident where I rolled my SUV 3 times...It took around 4 minutes for police to arrive and another 2 for the EMT's. And that felt like eternity.

markuza said...

I saw a picture on the front page of of about 50 cops milling around a crime scene and I had to smile- ironically, of course. I'll never forget the time I was living in Brattleboro Vermont and I saw four or five cruisers respond to one drunk guy who broke a window. I've actually been hung up on when calling the Brazilian equivalent of 911, or been told not to worry about it. The police here are only useful if there happens to be one right there when you need one. 22 minutes actually seems like a relatively short response time.

Then again, Flavor Flav wrote that song '911 is a joke' back in the 80's and I'm sure he didn't do it without some motivation. Then again, Ice-T wrote 'Cop Killer' and I don't think he killed any cops, in fact he ended up playing one on TV!

I'm really dating myself with those cultural references...

markuza said...

Oh yeah- about the fire extinguisher- they probably would have checked that when you registered the car, that's the only time they do a (cursory) inspection and I'm sure that's on their list of things to check. So maybe you don't need one.

Stephanie said...

Don't worry!! Your cultural references are still relevant to my generation! Just kidding :) I have no clue how old you are, though I suspect you can't be too far ahead of me! I am fully aware of Flav and Ice T...though I enjoyed them both more on their TV debuts...I couldnt get enough of the train wreck of the Flava of Luv or LAO:SVU

And funny enough, we have to register the car this month! I will have to ask about the extinguisher thing. Chances are Sidnei has no clue, will wait until the last minute to register and we'll have to run around like crazy getting everything done!

markuza said...

I never saw either of those guys on TV- well, maybe parts of a LAO episode... as for the extinguishers, you can get them at any gas station. And it should be located under the passenger's seat. Might be worth picking one up even if you aren't required to :)