The streets of San Salvador, El Salvador’s sprawling capital are a dangerous place. The busy, metropolis has all the risks one would expect of a densely populated urban centre (San Salvador accounts for over 30% of the overall 7+ million population of the country) but It is also consistently one of the most homicidal cities in the world. Citizens live under the overwhelming pervasiveness of impending danger
It’s a Monday night, and a team of volunteers awaits their next emergency call over the radio at the headquarters of Comandos De Salvamento (CDS), a volunteer paramedic organisation in El Salvador’s capital. Station Chief William Zaldana conducts a briefing for all those just arrived on shift. Some volunteers tonight are as young as 15 years of age
After roll call Zaldaña (44) a 15-year veteran of the organization, goes in to man the radio. His colleague, and fellow veteran volunteer Manuel Perez, comes in to keep him company for a while during the lull in activity, rare for a city continuously plagued by violence.
The organization was founded in the early 1960s with the aim to expand access to emergency care. CDS operated through El Salvador’s brutal civil war (1980-92), and today its volunteers face a different kind of conflict: an epidemic of gang violence that has claimed thousands of lives and led to an exodus of the country’s youth.
It’s not long before the crew are called out to a road traffic accident. A woman is trapped in her car after a violent collision at an intersection. Two CDS ambulances and a specialist crew with cutting equipment arrive on the scene. There are already paramedics from the Cruz Roja Salvadoreña (Red Cross) tending to the victim. The CDS stays to provide support.
Sandra Vanegas (16) treats an injured man in the back of a CDS Ambulance.
Rambo: First Blood plays, muted, on an old wall-mounted TV, outside the dispatch office The static humming of the radio equipment can be heard through the eerie silence of the El Bosque neighbourhood. As soon as it’s dark here people avoid venturing outside. Medics stay behind the gate of the the HQ. With no street lights around, the neighbourhood quickly drops off into an ink black. darkness
Luis Pineda, 35, a paramedic with the CDS, supports the neck of a road accident victim while colleagues move the patient onto a stretcher.
Saul Jimenez, 20, and Michael Jason, 18, relax with friends in their dormitory during a quiet moment on shift