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updated: 10/11/2012 5:39 PM

Elgin becomes sister city to Cauquenes, Chile

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When fire departments have gear that is still functional but no longer in compliance with industry standards there is not much they can do with it. Elgin Fire Lt. Robert Bedard said the gear has no value. Same with medical equipment that could still help people, just not in the United States where regulations prohibit its use.

A new sister city arrangement with Cauquenes, Chile -- a community devastated by an earthquake in 2010 -- will provide an outlet for the gear and equipment.

"By giving it to a country where they have nothing whatsoever, this is huge," said Bedard, who has been coordinating aid to Chile since the earthquake. "It solves a problem up here and it solves a problem there." Elgin Mayor David Kaptain read the official sister city proclamation during Wednesday's City Council meeting, announcing the latest partnership that could soon be one of many.

Kaptain said Elgin has been connected to Vientiane, Laos, since 1967 and hopes to formalize partnerships with cities in Greece and China in coming months.

"It's time for Elgin to start thinking that we're more than just a regional city," Kaptain said. "We have to think outside our boundaries."

The Elgin Fire Department sent a group of firefighters to Rancagua, Chile, in 2011 to deliver equipment and train local firefighters on how to use it. Bedard said a training trip is not planned for Cauquenes yet because all of the community's fire stations were leveled in the earthquake. First the community must rebuild.

The Cultural Arts Commission, Gail Borden Public Library, Sherman Hospital Foundation, Elgin Community Network and Downtown Neighborhood Association have been working with area fire and police departments in a larger partnership.

Bedard said the group is gathering items to send to Cauquenes beyond professional equipment. Gail Borden is donating books to help start an English-language library in the town. And the Cultural Arts Commission is sending 50 matted photographs of Elgin that will tell a history of the city.

The firefighters voted Monday to contribute $10,000 to the aid effort. Half of that is already committed to pay for shipping costs for a 40-foot crate Bedard hopes to send in February. The money comes from a foreign fire insurance tax on out-of-state insurance companies selling fire insurance in Illinois and must be used for the benefit of the fire department.

Police department chaplain Henoch Fuentes is from Chile and first urged the fire department to get on board with the aid efforts after the earthquake. He has high hopes for the sister city connection and the multifaceted opportunities for cultural exchange, the first such arrangement he knows of between Chile and a U.S. city.

"Elgin is the entryway to connect with Illinois and the United States," Fuentes said.

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