For years, Sander Van’t Hof, a 27-year-old firefighter from Rotterdam, Netherlands, has collected toy fire trucks.
When he found a truck emblazoned with the Mesa Fire Department logo, he got curious.
"I got on the Web site to see if the Mesa Fire Department was real, and now I’m here," Van’t Hof said last week.
Van’t Hof and his colleague and friend, Danny Hendriksen, 26, spent two weeks shadowing members of the fire department around the clock. "We wanted to see the differences between the two countries’ firefighters and (emergency medical services)," Van’t Hof said.
The two, who paid for their trip themselves, learned quickly there are some significant differences.
In Holland, firefighters and EMS workers are separate and distinct. They have their own stations, their own vehicles and don’t always go to the same calls. In Mesa, every fire engine is staffed with four firefighters who have emergency medical training.
Mesa firefighters work 24-hour shifts and often respond to more than 12 calls a day.
Hendriksen, a paramedic, works eight hours a day and responds to six to 10 calls a day. Van’t Hof works 24-hour shifts, but usually gets only five calls a day.
The visit was a learning experience for Mesa firefighters as well.
"We get a lot out of networking, being able to compare cities and systems," Mesa Battalion Chief Ward Fleger said. "There are always things we can learn and improve on."
For example, Fleger said he wants to see if he can get the same firefighting gear used by his Dutch counterparts — it’s much lighter and less cumbersome.
Fire officials with Rural/ Metro Corp. in Scottsdale and other East Valley communities said they often get visits from foreign firefighters.
When some English firefighters visited Chandler, they shared information on the breathing apparatus they use and the link to having one of the lowest firefighter fatality rates in the world, said Chandler Fire Department Battalion Chief Dan Couch.
On the flip side, Rural/ Metro is regularly educating European firefighters about Scottsdale’s sprinkler laws, spokesman Sandy Nygaard said. Scottsdale has required homebuilders to include sprinklers in new homes since 1986.