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Firefighter in Argentina saves a child’s life, writes a book about his experiences

We tried to lift the bus so we could free the child. His legs stuck out, crushed against the ground by the fallen bus. We hurried to prevent more blood loss. I attempted to keep him conscious by promising candy if he kept responding. Despite our best efforts to act quickly, the rescue mission took hours.

  • 11 months ago
  • April 2, 2023
5 min read
Cardozo began working as a firefighter at the age of 19. At the age of 25, he saved someone's life for the first time. He has since written a book on his experiences. Cardozo began working as a firefighter at the age of 19. At the age of 25, he saved someone's life for the first time. He has since written a book on his experiences. | Photo courtesy of Rodolfo Cardozo's family
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Rodolfo Orlando Cardozo worked as a volunteer firefighter from Lima, Argentina for 32 years before retiring and publishing a book about his experiences on the job.

Cardozo’s book, “Alma, Corazon y Fuego” (Soul, Heart and Fire) details the events of many rescue missions he went on, including the losses he witnessed on the job. He has sold over 200 copies so far.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The International Association of Fire and Rescue Services points out the absence of a national fire statistics system in many countries of the world, making it difficult to gather global data on the topic. However, their 2022 report gathers data from 48 countries with a total population of 3.3 billion people. Of these, fire and rescue officials reported 68 million calls, 20.6 thousand deaths during fires, and 69.5 thousand injuries. This means 0.6 people died and 2.1 were injured per 100 thousand people.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — One morning, as I drove my van on Route 9, I spotted an accident ahead. Without thinking twice, I rushed out of my vehicle and saw an overturned bus. A truck had collided with the bus, and the wreckage trapped dozens of people for over an hour. I heard their screams getting louder as I approached the scene.

After quickly assessing the situation, I called my colleagues in the fire department. Meanwhile, I ventured into the wreck and saw three people with broken limbs. As I went deeper into the bus, I spotted a six-year-old boy trapped under scraps of metal. He appeared semi-conscious. I tried to keep him awake as long as possible, and when I heard the sound of sirens, relief filled me. I knew help was on the way.  

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I spotted a child grappling between life and death

At 19 years old, recruiters from the local fire station approached me and asked if I wanted to become a firefighter. They sought to form a new group in Lima. I said yes without much thought, not knowing what they might expect of me, but I grew up admiring firefighters’ uniforms and felt excited to have one of my own. 

My career as a firefighter out of Lima, Argentina has now spanned 32 years. Throughout my career, one moment changed my life forever. At barely 25 years old, I saved a child’s life after a major accident and detailed my experiences in a book called “Soul, Heart, and Fire.”

On the bus where I found the boy trapped that day, my colleagues rushed to my side. We tried to lift the bus so we could free the child. His legs stuck out, crushed against the ground by the fallen bus. We hurried to prevent more blood loss. I attempted to keep him conscious by promising candy if he kept responding. Despite our best efforts to act quickly, the rescue mission took hours. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. Eventually, we got him out alive and took him to the nearest hospital. 

Some losses remain with me forever 

I felt so grateful that day to be able to save someone’s life. The child later came to visit me at the station with his family. Despite the difficulties we face in our profession, my love for my work grows with every passing year. 

For several years now, I visit schools and talk to children about the work we do as firefighters. The children’s reactions feel priceless. They hug us and compliment us for our bravery. It warms my heart every time.

Other moments remain in my head forever, for different reasons. As firefighters, we experience death on the job. People have died in my arms, and I felt their loved ones’ suffering as my own. I remember an incident in the small town of Alsina. We received an alert about a fire in a wetland area. A group of colleagues became trapped by the flames. Two of our female colleagues died in the fire. We rushed to rescue the survivors and put the fire out. 

Copies of Cardozo’s book, “Alma, Corazon y Fuego”. | Photo courtesy of Cardozo’s family

When we arrived on scene, we climbed an embankment to get a better look. Rough winds blew a giant cloud of smoke towards us. We worked hard to get to the other side. Together, we put out the fire and approached the bodies of our fallen comrades. It felt deeply upsetting. Seeing one woman’s face and her clothes and hair burnt up broke my heart. I wanted to break down and cry, but I knew I needed to stay strong for my team. Every day, those images haunt me.

Immortalizing moments on paper 

I wrote about a lot of my experiences in a book, which allowed me to gain closure. I still love what I do but wanted others to have a glimpse inside our world. With the money I made from selling my book, I want to fund a monument in honor of the Lima firefighters. Firefighters deserve more credit and recognition for their hard work.

Something deep inside me stirs every time I hear a siren nearby. I feel a need to help others around me. Being there for others feels important and natural to me. We constantly collide with other people’s pain, and we have to respect it. 

I worked as a firefighter for the past 32 years, and I feel proud of every second. I retired not long ago to focus on my family. My biggest goal today is to be an inspiration to my children. Throughout my years on the job, many people helped shape the man I am today and for that, I remain grateful. Being a firefighter taught me so much over the years.

We do more than just save lives; we act as a support for people during the worst moments of their lives. We do this knowing at times we might be the last face that person sees. With my book and a compilation of written stories, I leave a testimony behind for my daughter. This passion for being a firefighter came unintentionally but remains with me all of my life.

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