Skip to main content

Fireman transforms pickup paramedics

  • Story Highlights
  • Paul Embleton's foundation provides equipment, training to Guatemalan firefighters
  • Before Embleton, emergency rescue often came in pickup trucks, not ambulances
  • He moved to Guatemala from Washington state in 2007 to volunteer full-time
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open at
  • Next Article in Living »
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (CNN) -- When Guatemalan laborer Faustino Morales fell from a scaffold in February, the response from volunteer firefighters was immediate. Within minutes, the "bomberos" reached the accident site with advanced rescue equipment, an ambulance and a thorough knowledge of how to treat his injuries.

Embleton and Guatemalan emergency responders help Faustino Morales, who fell from a scaffold.

Paul Embleton's BRAVE Foundation has trained more than 1,000 volunteer firefighters in Guatemala.

Just 10 years ago, help would more likely have come from under-trained volunteers who arrived in a pickup truck.

Veteran firefighter Paul Embleton witnessed such a rescue attempt in 1996 while on a medical mission trip to Guatemala -- and it moved him into action.

"I rode out with a busy company that ran multiple calls a day, mostly involving crashes, shootings, stabbings ... a lot of violence," said Embleton, 48. "They didn't have ambulances. [Firefighters] would respond to these calls, grab the patients from the streets and throw them in the back of the pickup truck. They just transported; they didn't provide a whole lot of care."

He saw several people die in those pickup trucks. Knowing they could have had a better chance of survival with basic pre-hospital care, Embleton, a captain paramedic firefighter from Washington state, saw an opportunity to help.

Embleton launched the BRAVE Foundation -- Bomberos Resourceful And Valiant Efforts -- to provide emergency response training and equipment to volunteer firefighters (bomberos) in Guatemala. Do you know someone who should be a CNN Hero? Nominations are open at

During his first trip there, he openly criticized the firefighters' lack of resources and training. The firefighters, in turn, asked him to hold a class for them.

"I'd gone back to my hotel to try to think how I was going to teach with the same limited resources they had," Embleton said. "I cut up my hotel bed sheets and made triangular bandages, and got cardboard boxes to utilize for splints."

With the help of a 12-year-old interpreter, Embleton taught roughly 100 students techniques in basic bleeding control.

David Alvarez, the chief of 10 Fire Station in Guatemala, was among Embleton's first students. "It was really primitive before," Alvarez said. "Basic techniques that firefighters had outside of Guatemala, we'd never learned, and we wanted to learn."

In 1998, with assistance from fellow Washington firefighters and Rotary International, the BRAVE Foundation established a pilot emergency medical training program in Guatemala City, using the U.S. emergency medical technician curriculum translated into Spanish. Since then, the EMT training program has expanded to 14 training programs throughout the country. Video Watch Embleton describe what made him take action in Guatemala »

"Things have improved drastically since our program began," said Embleton. "The skill level of the firefighters has increased immensely. They have more confidence and more respect from hospitals in providing pre-hospital care, and the citizens have noticed this."

In 2007, just a few years shy of retirement, Embleton was granted a leave of absence from his work as a Washington firefighter. He sold a private Internet-based business and relocated to Guatemala to volunteer full-time.

His group is building a fire station and training firefighters at 120 Company -- the newest company of firefighters in the remote lake community of San Juan La Laguna.

"We've moved out to the country to support an indigenous Mayan community where the needs are great," Embleton said. "They've never had anybody to call because there was nobody available to respond. We're educating the people that the firefighters are here to help." Video Watch how Embleton and volunteers provide rescue services to a remote community »

To date, Embleton's BRAVE Foundation has organized the delivery of 20 firefighting vehicles and more than $1 million worth of medical and rescue equipment. The group has provided EMT training to more than 1,000 firefighters.

"The firefighters have the motivation, and you get a heart for it because you see how well we have it in the States," Embleton said. "These guys are so poor and they try so hard, and they have no other resources to make a program like this work on their own." Video Watch a day in the life of a firefighter in Guatemala »

Despite his personal sacrifice, Embleton is quick to share credit for BRAVE's efforts and success, citing the help of volunteers, private donors, firefighters, Rotary and the Guatemala community.


"You see all the good that it does," said Embleton. "People call the firefighters when they're in trouble, and they know that the firemen will always be there."

Want to get involved? Check out the BRAVE Foundation and see how to help.

All About GuatemalaEmergency Medicine

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print