#107 – Earthquake

by Justin Strousse

The following is a story presented to Fire Tech Productions from Justin Strousse. He is the Director of Global Sales for Clarke Fire Protection Products where he works in the fire pump industry and travels around the world visiting various facilities, meeting government officials, and attending different seminars and exhibitions. Justin had quite an experience in Mexico and this is his story…

I arrived in Mexico on a Sunday with my co-worker, Luis Alvarez, as we were going to be attending the AMRACI conference. After arriving in Mexico City, doing a little sightseeing, attending some seminars, and meeting up with other attendees– we decided that the next day we would visit one of the pump dealers before going to the opening day of the expo. The company we visited in the south-central part of Mexico City was in a concrete building. Luis had left to give some training while I stayed and spoke with the owners. It was around 11:00am when an alarm went off and an owner told me not to worry, “it was just an annual test of an earthquake alarm,” that they test every year on the anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake.

About 1:15, I was in a second-floor conference room and my chair and the table started to shake. I could see out the window that trees were swaying and power lines were moving back and forth. People were leaving the building and, as some of us were trying to exit, the whole building began shaking violently. I could not even walk to get outside—the whole building was rocking back and forth, so I stayed inside leaning on a vertical I beam covered by concrete.

Finally, everything stopped. My colleagues and I walked out of the building and were told that we could not go back into any of the buildings, as they might be very unstable and possibly collapse—especially with the possibility of aftershocks. We walked to a nearby soccer field and as we were walking I noticed one of the streets had water seeping out of it from a broken underground water main. Eventually our building was cleared and we were able to go back inside. We stayed there for a while, as our hotel was seven miles away. Unfortunately, it was getting hotter, with no air conditioning or electricity, so we decided to make our way to a closer hotel. Once there we caught up on the news and had dinner, while waiting for the roads to clear, so we could get back to our hotel.

We eventually returned to our hotel later that evening. Not all of Mexico City was severely affected by the earthquake, so the Expo was not canceled for the next day, but as we traveled around the city we saw devastation caused by the earthquake. Although our company president thought we should return to the States right away, Luis and I decided to stay and attend the expo. While at the expo we were able to see customers, and sit in on a press conference regarding the need for Mexico to push for country-wide fire regulations.

The earthquake happened on Tuesday and I was in Mexico until Friday. While I was there I noticed how well the Mexicans worked at mobilizing right away on clean up, repair, and delivering supplies (along with food and water) to areas of need. It makes one stop and think. I always push using a diesel fire pump driver versus using an electric motor set with a gen set because I sell diesel fire pump drivers. However, I truly push diesel fire pump drivers in regions which can get hit by natural disaster—like earthquakes, as diesel fire pump drivers are totally independent of what is going on outside of the building. After the earthquake we lost power, water and total communications. Our gen set ran out of fuel. I can tell you, first hand, there are no fuel deliveries during an earthquake. You can’t call anyone. If by some miracle you could get a fuel delivery, since there was no power, you could not even pump fuel to your tank. The only thing I could think of the entire time was – if there was a fire in the neighborhood, and the building was protected by an electric only fire pump set supported by a gen set, which would not be operational, everything would burn down. Now, I am an even stronger believer in using diesel fire pump drivers for areas which could suffer a natural disaster. Believe me—when a region is hit by the same disaster—you and your facility are truly on your own.