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October 25, 2014
Thursday, February 6, 2014

Firefighting lives united by a tragedy

Anahí Garnica was the only female firefighter to die yesterday.
Nine victims came from distinct backgrounds, but shared love for their vocation

Among the victims of yesterday’s partial building collapse and fire in the Barracas neighbourhood were several young fathers, a policeman who volunteered as a fireman, and the first female member of the Federal Police’s firefighting unit, who was also a mother.

Anahí Garnica, 27, the only female firefighter to die yesterday, was a mother of a young baby girl and the first woman to enter the Federal Police Fire Brigade.

“I like going out to fires, helping people, saving their lives, their objects, their pets,” she told the Página/12 newspaper in an interview early last year.

Garnica had been quick to scale the career ladder within the unit, becoming a deputy inspector in 2006.

Aged just 20, she had at her charge firemen with more than 50 years’ experience.

“Some resisted my authority, but that happened to my younger male colleagues too. It didn’t have to do with gender, rather our age,” she added.

The fire unit of the Federal Police was not accepting women when Garnica began showing interest in firefighting; her father, Raúl, had been a fireman.

“They weren’t sure about having women, but they wanted to try,” she said of the brigade’s 2003 decision to allow entry to women.

Garnica was one of just four to start the course, along with 20 men.

“There wasn’t even a bedroom or bathroom for women. They designated me to the ‘alarm room,’ where women answered the phone,” she explained. “That’s where I slept on night shift.”

Garnica was the mother a baby girl and was married to a fireman from the La Boca Brigade.

“We sometimes run into each other when there’s a fire in the Ecological Reserve (near Puerto Madero neighbourhood).”

Garnica’s mother yesterday said she was passionate about her profession.

“Anahí was an extraordinary daughter,” she expressed to the La Nación daily. “As a parent I can only hope she was happy when she was among us.”

Leonardo Arturo Day, 55, chief of Zone I of the Federal Police Fire Brigade, was also killed yesterday.

“He was a hero who was concerned about absolutely everyone,” firefighter and colleague, Mariana Fernández told broadcaster C5N. “The amount of honours he had in his office for saving people — he was a true hero.”

For her part, Day’s wife, Mabel, recalled that her husband had seen the worst of tragedies in his professional career — the Lapa aeroplane crash at Aeroparque airport in 1999, and more recently the train crash at the Once station.

“I found out very early on TV. I had a distinct feeling and I started calling mobile phones and later the brigade, but they didn’t tell me anything,” she explained to Radio 10. “I felt a strong pain in my chest.”

“My husband was 55-years-old and had worked for more than 30 years as a fireman. I feel dazed. I never expected something like this because people go through so much on a daily basis and always come out fine.”

Leonardo Day was one of the security officials charged December last year over the late discovery of the body of Lucas Menghini Rey, the 51st victim of the Once train crash in February 2012.

Eduardo Conesa, 45, was another of the Federal Police fireman to die in yesterday’s fire and building collapse in the City’s south-side neighbourhood. Aside from his role in the Federal Police’s fire unit, Conesa was a volunteer in the Lanús Oeste brigade in Greater Buenos Aires, and the proud father of sons who are following in his footsteps — one as a fireman and the other as a cadet.

On his Facebook social media profile yesterday, his son Gonzalo sent a chilling message to Conesa: “Dad I need to see you, to know that you’re okay, and to give you a hug,” he wrote

In a statement made to broadcaster TN, his colleague Juan Scarpello explained that the fireman had “18 years of experience as a firefighter, and in his free time he was a volunteer.”

“We know that when one goes out to an emergency he’s taking a risk,” he added. “But nobody is prepared for this.”

The Federal Police lost a total of five fire brigade members yesterday, including Maximiliano Martínez, 30, and Juan Matías Monticelli. Fireman Damián Véliz was described as “spontaneous, funny and very passionate.

“He always stood up for people, even if he didn’t know them,” a friend told the Herald. “My husband knew him from their studies, as he did Sebastián Campos, 35. They were both very young. They both had children. It’s a very sad loss.”

Campos belonged to the Vuelta de Rocha brigade based in the La Boca neighbourhood, not far from yesterday’s incident in Barracas, where he was allegedly one of the first firefighters to arrive.

The 35-year-old had been a handy mechanic with a long history in the brigade — since the age of five, in fact — the brigade’s director Antonio Sette told the C5N broadcaster.

Also a volunteer, Campos leaves behind his wife and a daughter aged one-and-a-half.

Little was known at press time of José Luis Méndez,31, from the Villa Domínico brigade, who also died yesterday.

In a photo posted to Facebook in November 2012 (see front page), Méndez said: “I swear to fulfill the mission that I am voluntarily agreeing to with dedication, courage and discipline — though it should be with my life.”

Information obtained on the same social media website indicated that another fatal victim of yesterday’s incident, Pedro Baricola, 40, was a dedicated fan of the Boca Juniors soccer club, with photos of the yellow and blue laced across his page. Baricola was a member of the General Management of Civil Defence for Buenos Aires City, a widow and the father of a young daughter. — Herald with online media

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