Firemen of the desert
Dakar 2024 |
Stage 3 |
> AL SALAMIYA
January 8 th 2024 - 11:25 [GMT + 3]
Before breaking into the top 10, Richard De Groot, a volunteer firefighter for 14 years in the Netherlands and founder of the "Firemen Dakar Team", brought the Dakar to life above all through his actions in the name of mutual aid, for the rally competitors and for the worldwide firefighting family.
Richard De Groot's story on the Dakar began in 2006, on his way from Lisbon to the Senegalese capital... and on a motorbike. At the time, the Dutchman was already a truck driver in civilian life and took part in the rally as a pure amateur, a regular in the unassisted biker class. He even took the exercise seriously and persistently, reaching the finish six times in a row on two wheels, in Africa and then South America. But in the Netherlands, off-road enthusiasts cannot escape the call of the truck. So, this was the idea he pursued, and as a volunteer fireman, he naturally found some partners to help him set up a themed crew: the “Firemen Dakar Team”. In 2017, the firefighters became sand fighters, travelling from Asuncion in Paraguay to Argentina, via Bolivia: “We were there to race the Dakar,” remembers Richard, “but also with the firefighters’ spirit, to help the other competitors. We quickly became popular on the bivouac and just about everywhere else because we had a siren and everyone recognised us. We soon had thousands of fans on our website”. The success of the red lorry and its firefighters grew further the following year with a particularly virtuous initiative in Peru. “We got in touch with the fire brigades in Pisco and Lima so that we could bring them second-hand equipment from Amsterdam, including a number of helmets and, above all, a very good quality truck, because they had very little equipment over there. They were thrilled and I'm sure it helped them a lot because their resources were very limited”.
The De Groot truck still bears a red livery, but its purpose has changed since the Dakar has arrived in South Arabia, where firefighters are already very well equipped. On the other hand, the former biker has become a serious competitor in the Middle East, even managing to break into the Top 10 on the 2023 edition. “Having already finished 8th, we want to do better and of course in these conditions it’s difficult to stop and help the others”. However, after two days of racing and, above all, a hefty penalty for missing waypoints, the “Firemen” are languishing at the bottom of the rankings in 44th place. Perhaps it's a sign that Richard and his pals could return to their ways of being the Saint Bernards of the dunes…