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Firefighters Speak Your Language

Los bomberos hablan su idioma

by Beth Kassab

February 4, 2001
Copyright © 2001 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

DELTONA -- But the firefighters don't understand and instead use a series of hand gestures to communicate with her. Seconds and then minutes go by as smoke and flames continue to overtake the home.

That scene has become so familiar to Deltona firefighters and paramedics that they decided to enroll in a special Spanish class in which they hope to learn basic skills in the language that is becoming more prominent in Deltona.

The most recent figures available show about 14 percent of residents in west Volusia County are Hispanic, and that's expected to increase when new census results are released later this year.

"In this case of life and death situations, every second counts," said firefighter Ron Green. "Someone who doesn't speak English doesn't deserve to die [because of it.]"

Green is one of several Deltona firefighters who already speak fluent Spanish -- in fact, he spoke it before he spoke English. He has served as an intermediary between English-speaking firefighters and Spanish speakers even when he is off duty.

"I've been called out of sound sleep," he said. "I've done it over the phone."

After the 12-hour course, the firefighters are not expected to be fluent in a second language, but should have learned some simple pronunciation and valuable words, said Jose Carmona, the Daytona Beach Community College professor who is teaching the course.

"The point is they're going to be able to work within their jobs," said Carmona, also the chairman of the modern language department at DBCC.

Carmona teaches with a textbook used nationwide that is especially tailored to firefighters and paramedics. The manual even comes with a waterproof card, or "cheat sheet," for firefighters to refer to even in the midst of an emergency.

Rick Dougal, a paramedic and firefighter, doesn't know a lick of Spanish, but estimated it would come in useful for one out of every 10 of the emergency calls he gets.

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