Traveling as part of Gainesville ministry Rahab’s Rope, Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle took part in a massive Christmas celebration in Bangalore, India.
But he also caught a glimpse of something readily familiar, firefighting, and just how that service is carried out in the South India city of 8 million.
"They were very receptive of me, and we just kind of compared notes," said Cagle, a captain with Hall County Fire Services. "I really didn’t know what to expect."
What he found was very good equipment, the same as or similar to what is in Hall fire stations, just not enough of it.
"When you look at their size, the odds are against them just because of the number of fire stations and the number of people," Cagle said.
Hall has 180,000 people and 15 fire stations. Bangalore has 12 fire stations.
"They wanted to know why we had so many and I told them it was mainly for insurance purposes — that the closer you live to a fire station, the cheaper your insurance was."
Cagle said he asked Bangalore fire officials about their particular needs, especially "if money were no object."
"They said they didn’t have (personal) protective equipment ... and enough thermal imaging cameras," he said. "They have six in the entire state (of Karnataka) and ... just two for the whole city."
Hall County has one camera, which allows firefighters to see areas of heat through smoke and darkness, at each of its stations.
Cagle said he plans to raise money to send the department one of the cameras, which cost about $8,000 apiece.
"I asked several of the folks, ‘What is your No. 1 challenge in fighting fires?’ and they all said ‘traffic,’" he said. "Just getting to a fire is an adventure."
To help with that problem, the firefighters in India use a motorcycle with two fire extinguishers attached.
Also, fire engines come equipped with cages over the windows to protect firefighters from objects being thrown at them.
"When they go to a fire, if it’s a Hindu house, the Muslims don’t want them to put it out," Cagle said. "If it’s a Muslim house, the Hindus don’t want them to put it out. Sometimes, (the firefighters will) have rocks thrown at them."
Cagle, while wearing his fire marshal uniform, presented several certificates bringing greetings from local fire officials to the Indian officials.
"One thing that kind of sticks out as far as all the people, but especially the fire department, is their hospitality," he said. "We were served tea and coffee three times within a three-hour meeting there.
"It just goes to show that brotherhood and sisterhood of fire services extends beyond the oceans, regions and climates."
The trip came about because Cagle was familiar with the ministry’s work.
He worships at Riverbend Baptist Church with Vicki Moore, who founded Rahab’s Rope, which serves victimized women in India by taking care of, counseling and providing them vocational training in sewing and jewelry making.
Moore began the ministry in 2004 after reading reports about how "every day in India, 200 women and children are sold, kidnapped or forced into prostitution," she said in a November interview.
"Actually, my wife (Jennifer) talked (first) about wanting to go," Cagle said. "... I went along really to go with my wife."
About a month before the trip, Moore said it would be possible for Cagle to meet with fire officials in India.
"I’ve met with fire departments in Moldova (in Eastern Europe) and Mexico," he said. "It’s always interesting to see how fire departments do things and to look at their equipment."
From his travels, Cagle is convinced that "America is one of the richest nations."
The Rahab’s Rope group left for India on Dec. 26 and returned Jan. 4.
"My first impression was, as far as the ladies of Rahab’s Rope goes, is it’s just unbelievable what they have gone through in their life and the difference that this ministry is making over there," Cagle said.
He taught first aid and CPR to the women.
"One of their first questions was, ‘How do you take care of someone who has been bitten by a snake?’" Cagle said. "That’s very common over there."
He also was asked to teach about the role of husbands.
"My preparation time, studying in the Bible, kind of stepped on my toes," Cagle said. "It made me rededicate myself as a husband. ... I needed to step up my own game to my own wife."
Moore, in an e-mail last week to Rahab’s Rope supporters, recapped the journey and declared it successful.
"It is exciting to see how God is bringing various people with different backgrounds, gifts and talents together to work with the women," she wrote.
The experience certainly moved Cagle.
"Lives are being changed, and it was an awesome feeling to have a hand in that," he said.