Guatemala is a major drug corridor between South America and Mexico. Narco gangs thrive in rural areas and along the southeastern border, while street gangs who profit from extortion, kidnapping, and bribery dominate the urban centers. As a result, the country's capital, Guatemala City, has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
This is the environment in which Guatemala's bomberos voluntarios—a phrase that roughly translates to "volunteer firefighters" but really encompasses a group of first responders who act as firefighters, ambulance drivers, and paramedics—operate every day.
When Reason TV visited the headquarters of Guatemala City's official, government-sanctioned and -funded first responders—the bomberos municipales—officals downplayed the city's drug and violence problems and insisted that Guatemala is a safe place to live and visit. But the voluntarios, who receive some money from the government but seemingly maintain enough independence to avoid the same level of political pressure, had a different story to tell.
"The municipal bomberos receive funding from the government and the municipality," says Herber Diaz, one of the few paid, full-time paramedics on the force. "They have more equipment, and more people. But the trust the people have in us is there because we do everything. They're selective in their job."
Watch the above video for an intense look inside the world of Guatemala's volunteer bomberos, a group of men who on a daily basis save lives, race along treacherous roads where motorists are slow to pull over, and witness the results of cold-blooded executions on the city streets, all in a country with a government corrupted by organized crime, and all for little or no pay.
Click the link below for downloadable versions of this video.
Approximately 5 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Field Production by Ross Kenyon and Zachary Caceres. Music by Chris Zabriskie (http://chriszabriskie.com).