El Salvador youth find respite from gang war in Rescue Corps

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Teens become emergency workers to escape gangs
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Teens become emergency workers to escape gangs
Rescuers eat lunch at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
A rescue worker sleeps after the night shift at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuer Brandon Martinez gears up for a practice session at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuer Irving Altamirano embraces his mother, Claudia, as she visits him at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 17, 2016. Claudia is a former member of the Comandos de Salvamento. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Joel Altamirano skates on a skateboard at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Comandos de Salvamento rescuer participates in a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Emmanuel Martinez (L), Brandon Martinez (C), and Joel Altamirano rest during a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Brandon Martinez (L) and Brayan Hernandez participate in a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuer Brayan Hernandez rests during a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of the rescue unit participate in a practice session at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Volunteer Carlos Rodas (L) prepares for his first jump with rescuer Josue Najarro as they participate in a vertical rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuer Emmanuel Martinez stands at the scene of a car accident in San Salvador, El Salvador July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers rest during a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Blood stains are seen after Comandos de Salvamento rescuers attended to a suspected gang member who was shot near the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuers prepare lunch at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuers watch TV as they wait during the night shift at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuers Joel Altamirano (L) and Cesar Munoz share a soda at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers try to disconnect a car battery to avoid risk of fire after a car accident in San Salvador, El Salvador July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescue worker Josue Najarro and his niece look at a phone during the night shift at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
A car crash scene is pictured in San Salvador, El Salvador July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers attend to a suspected gang member after he was shot near the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuer Alcides Altamirano speaks with a policeman outside a hospital where they delivered a suspected gang member after he was shot near the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Alcides Altamirano (L) and Irving Altamirano attend to a woman bitten by a dog in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Maria Martinez (L) and Brayan Hernandez attend to a wounded homeless man in San Salvador, El Salvador July 16, 2016. The man was attacked with a machete by suspected gang members. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
A photograph of 14-year-old Comandos de Salvamento volunteer Erick Beltran, who was killed by suspected gang members, is seen during his funeral in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador April 13, 2016. Beltran is the first volunteer to be killed on duty in 56 years of CDS. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers wash blood off a stretcher after attending to a suspected gang member who was shot near the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas SEARCH 
Rescuers Maria Martinez (L) and Renato Landaverde help a woman who was run over by a bus in San Salvador, El Salvador July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Maria Martinez (L) and Ana Chichilla attend to a wounded homeless man in San Salvador, El Salvador July 16, 2016. The man was attacked with a machete by suspected gang members. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of Comandos de Salvamento and relatives of the deceased attend the funeral of 14-year-old volunteer Erick Beltran, who was killed by suspected gang members, in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador April 13, 2016. Beltran is the first volunteer to be killed on duty in 56 years of CDS. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of Comandos de Salvamento and relatives of the deceased participate in the funeral of 14-year-old volunteer Erick Beltran, who was killed by suspected gang members, in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador April 13, 2016. Beltran is the first volunteer to be killed on duty in 56 years of CDS. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Helmets hang in the room where 14-year-old volunteer Erick Beltran was killed at the Comandos de Salvamento base in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador June 5, 2016. Beltran was the first volunteer to be killed on duty in 56 years of CDS. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
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SAN SALVADOR, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Voluntary rescue worker Jazmin Hernandez has vivid memories of the day she responded to an emergency call involving a policeman shot dead by gang members in an El Salvadoran slum.

It was the first time the 16-year-old had seen violence up-close in her home country, where a turf war between the notorious gangs Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) has pushed murder rates to record levels.

"When we arrived he was still alive, but we couldn't do anything and he died because he had so many bullets in his body," she said.

SEE ALSO: Drug flights are shuttling cocaine and other drugs around South America on a daily basis

In 2015, El Salvador registered a record 103 homicides per 100,000 habitants, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside a war zone.

But for many young people who have few chances to distance themselves from rivalries between so-called maras in their schools and neighborhoods, a civil-society organization called the Comandos de Salvamento, or Rescue Corps, has been a refuge.

Jhonny Ramos, a volunteer coordinator who is paid by the group, said that about 2,000 youths now respond to traffic accidents, natural disasters and violent crimes in a country where emergency services personnel have been overwhelmed by crises.

The volunteers, who are trained in first-aid, gunshot wound care and evacuation techniques, often spend long shifts sleeping on small cots and responding to emergency calls.

With 32 bases around the country, the organization founded 56 years ago has also helped to take many youth off the country's crime-ridden streets and offering them opportunities to work as yellow-clad outreach workers.

But their work is not without risk. In April, suspected gang members stormed a Rescue Corps base in the central city of Quezaltepeque, about 13 miles (21 km) northwest of San Salvador, peppering a 14-year-old volunteer with bullets.

The victim, Erick Beltran, died of his wounds, becoming the first Rescue Corps volunteer to be killed on duty a long history that saw the organization on the streets during El Salvador's civil war.

"These are things that happen if you save the life of someone who is against a gang or mara," Ramos said.

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