The Portuguese referee fighting the fires in Chile

“Further and High” is a Maisfutebol title that looks at athletes and ways beyond football. Stories of effort, overcoming, successes and difficulties.

Rui Ventura has been a referee for nearly two decades. He was already in football, but seven years ago, since he was promoted to the main Futsal League, he only started whistling on the pitches.

But these days the mission of the 39-year-old citizen, who has been a firefighter for 25 years, is different.

Rui is part of the 144-person mission Portugal sent to Chile’s Concepción province, Bío-Bío region, to help fight forest fires. He is an expert in rural fire management at the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) and is among the team coordinated by the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority (ANEPC) and composed of officers from the latter, GNR , ICNF, the fire companies in the region of Lisbon and the Tagus Valley and the National Institute of Medical Emergencies (INEM).

The clock shows 08:45 local time (11:45 in Portugal). It is the first morning of work, after the arrival of Sunday. Rui Ventura speaks to Maisfutebol from Concepción, 500 kilometers from the capital Santiago, where the Portuguese delegation is stationed to help fight the wave of fires in the center-south of the country, which has already claimed at least 24 lives , which has destroyed about 1,500 houses and consumed 417,000 hectares.

“I was invited to join this mission, to also accompany the firefighters of the ICNF Sapadores Florestais. We arrived in Santiago at noon, went to Concepcion and arrived at the barracks around midnight, where we will be staying,” he says, before detailing the plans for the day.

“We prepare the analysis of the fires, we check everything that is happening in the country, and then we go to the missions, for the fires that are active. We organize our logistics, with materials, luggage and analyze everything that happens in the country,” he says.

It is the beginning of the planned “15 days” of the mission. For Rui, “perhaps the most important thing in his career.” The scenario we saw in the first hours is worrying.

A firefighter fights a fire in recent days in Santa Juana, Concepción province, Bío-Bío region (Matias Delacroix/AP)

“Many fires are destroying Chile, with great potential. It has caused a lot of damage to people, there have been deaths and we see that people are worried. I have been through this scenario a bit, I participated in the big fires in Portugal. It’s a similar scenario to what we had in Portugal in 2017, only more severe, with more fires. I am motivated and committed to work together so that Portugal is also well represented in this mission. We were received very well at the airport, the people in Chile greeted us with enthusiasm, thanking us for our presence. Wherever we were, people saved us, they clapped their hands, it’s a sign that they trust our work and that they are well aware of our importance in the country,” he says.

A life between arbitration and barracks

Due to his current role in the ICNF, Rui Ventura is on reserve at the Canas de Senhorim Fire Department. However, and despite the fact that he cannot be active at the moment, the firefighter has “remarkable” stories in about 20 years in the profession. “I had a serious accident in the fire department and beautiful things have happened to me: I have already saved some colleagues who were working with me in a fire, unfortunately I was badly burned afterwards, but these are stories that happen in our lives.”

At the same time, arbitration.

“I am an indoor referee in G1, I am in the first league. I have been a referee for almost 20 years. Refereeing was a pleasure, because I attended the PE teacher course in Guarda and at the moment it is the district where I am a referee. I have always maintained my career at Guarda and it was a passion that was born some time ago. I have never left refereeing, I have always devoted myself to refereeing as a professional, it is not very easy,” he says.

A “taste” that, even in Chile, leads him to look for ways to train in the midst of firefighting.

“Even here I’ve already come up with a strategy to try to figure out if I can train, combine training with the work I’m going to do. It’s exhausting, but it’s part of my passion, which is refereeing, which I assume as a professional. I will take exams, I still haven’t figured out if I can attend, because we will be evaluated in March. In other words, it is difficult to complement my work right now, here in Chile, with refereeing, but I will try to prepare as much as possible. I have to make a double effort here. I will not referee, but I think that I should – and for what refereeing is worth to me – try to do my best to never deceive what refereeing is and my role as a referee,” he emphasizes.

White card for businessmen, red card for fires

Rui emphasizes that his refereeing career has always been linked to Guarda because of “respect for people”. So much so that he is also the founder and current president of the Serra da Estrela Soccer and Futsal Referees Core (NAFFSE).

“Affection for the people of Guarda has led me, out of respect, to never stop being a referee at AF Guarda, which I represent. And the staff here [no Chile] You already know that I am a referee, they have gone and joked with me and I also try to transmit this vein to honor what refereeing in the Guarda and national refereeing is,” he notes.

A joke, in the middle of a serious mission, in which he wants to show above all the “red card” to the fireworks in the South American country.

“People have already understood that I am a referee, they even started saying that I have to show the white card later to the staff. And I tell them that, right now, what I really want is to show the red card to the fires in Chile and that, deep down, our mission is dignified, honorable, and that the world, in the end, gets the moment that we We Portuguese arrived in Chile and helped in this cause. For them it is terrible and we feel it in the world that welcomed us”, he notes.

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