Cinco de Mayo on the isthmus


Panama honors its firefighters today

by Eric Jackson

It’s Cinco de Mayo. Not the same thing here as it is to Mexicans – and for some reason even more so to Mexican-Americans. It’s not the celebration of a battle where foreign interlopers were routed.

Here in Panama it’s the solemn commemoration of the sacrifices that the volunteers and professionals of the oldest part of the Panamanian government, the Cuerpo de Bomberos — the firefighters — have made and make.

In the wee hours of May 5, 1914, the bomberos were called in to fight a fire in a row of wooden buildings near the present-day site of Hospital Santa Fe. Hidden away there was a clandestine and illegal fireworks factory, which exploded. Six firefighters were killed and 11 injured. Also killed in the blast were six police officers who were helping the firefighters.

If you go to the monument in Plaza Cinco de Mayo, it bears the watchwords Discipline, Honor and Abnegation.

The bomberos were founded in 1885, nearly 18 years before Panama became an independent country. They are a core of professional firefighters and a larger group of volunteers. Not only are they the people who will run into a burning building that everyone who can has run out of to do battle with a blaze, but they get called into all sorts of other emergencies. The current epidemic is no exception, and bomberos have fallen in the line of duty from that, too. The firefighters have also from time to time had to do battle with the government, to get proper equipment and protective clothing.


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