At age 9, he lived through the 1985 Mexico City earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people. So when Sacramento firefighter Roberto Padilla saw the devastating temblor hit earlier this month, “I knew what was coming.”
Within 48 hours, he was on the ground in Mexico City helping with rescue and recovery efforts.
“This is my homeland,” Padilla said. “I needed to go help.”
His journey into the heart of the devastation in Mexico, where at least 337 people died from the 7.1-magnitude quake on Sept. 19, began with a personal scare. Three family members were missing. They were eventually found safe, but Padilla filled a backpack with minimal supplies and was on the ground the next day.
As the 40-year-old firefighter flew into Mexico City, he saw giant spotlights shining from various rescue sites. When he got to the southern part of the city, he started walking toward those big lights. Authorities checked his credentials and he was immediately put to work. His first job started as a rescue effort, but quickly turned into recovery work.
“Unfortunately, it eventually turned into a recovery effort, but at least it gave the family closure,” he said. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”
That would be only the beginning of his work. Much in demand given his 22 years of experience as a first responder, Padilla was dispatched to other collapsed buildings with people trapped inside. He traveled in motorcycle brigades and pickup brigades.
“It was very gratifying to be able to go back and help not just my countrymen, but my fellow human beings,” Padilla said.
The Sacramento Fire Department employee wanted to capture and share some of his experience on video “to motivate others to act.”
“We are a country of immigrants, and watching something unfold in your homeland is horrible to see and not be able to help,” Padilla said.
He is grateful for training he’s received from the Sacramento Fire Department. That training “gave me the confidence to pull this mission off” alongside doctors, nurses, engineers and others “who helped by removing debris brick by brick.”
Padilla, 40, emphasized that in Sacramento and elsewhere in the United States people must be prepared for a natural disaster emergency.