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Emotional

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Emotional tribute held for four Venezuelan firefighters killed in automobile accident

By BRETT NAUMAN

Eagle Staff Writer

Tears glistened in the eyes of Gilberto Leon on Thursday as the Venezuelan firefighter recalled what has been one of the toughest weeks of his life.

Leon, a 35-year-old from Caracas, lost a mentor and three lifelong friends Sunday when four firefighters from his department were killed as they traveled to College Station for fire school.

“The pain, the frustration, the not being able to do anything and the loss has been irreparable,” Leon said through an interpreter Thursday during the training program’s graduation ceremony.

The four firefighters from the Vargas State Fire Department were honored during an emotional tribute Thursday as 646 Spanish-speaking emergency workers from 17 countries graduated from the program.

Several hundred firefighters stood in silence for five minutes at Reed Arena as Leon and others from his department were given Texas flags in honor of the dead.

The flags will be taken back to Venezuela and presented to the families of Adelis Dinorath Idler, Carolina Morales, Jose Andres Gantes and Antonio Colmenares.

The firefighters were killed when their sport utility vehicle hit an 18-wheeler en route to College Station for the annual Spanish school at Brayton Fire Training Field.

A fifth firefighter injured in the crash, Jorge Zea, remained in critical condition Thursday at a Houston hospital, officials said. A flag also was presented in Zea’s honor during the ceremony.

Angel Fernandez Rivera, a guest instructor at the fire school and a member of the Venezuelan fire department, said the firefighters in the department have received tremendous support since the accident.

Ten other firefighters were traveling to College Station in a caravan when the four were killed. The Houston Fire Department has provided them with food, shelter and guidance, Rivera said.

During days this week, Rivera has taught at the fire school. During nights he has made the 90-minute drive to Houston to check up on those who were traveling in the caravan.

Firefighters from the Vargas State Fire Department travel to College Station every year and will continue to take part in what Rivera said is “the best training in the world.”

Although many of the Venezuelans have been grief-stricken throughout the week, Rivera said he has reminded the firefighters that they must move forward.

“I’m sure that’s the wishes of those who passed away,” he said.

For Leon, the fact that he lost several people close to him in a foreign country hasn’t fully sunk in. Sweltering under the Texas sun during the fire school was a welcome distraction, he said.

“Our future and our destinies have really changed,” Leon said. “We’re all in mourning over what happened. But the pain is good, because it helps us survive our loss.”

• Brett Nauman’s e-mail address is bnauman@theeagle.com.

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