By Nancy Nais
KUCHING, Dec 20: For the first time ever in the history of the Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) Sarawak, a group of longhouse villagers from Miri approached them for fire safety advice before building their new home.
In the wake of so many longhouse fires occurring in the state in recent years, these 16 ‘bilek’ heads and their ‘tuai rumah’ Salin Abong from Sg Selulit, Bok, Tinjar, in Miri realised that if they wanted to build a new longhouse, they must do it properly.
So, today, they travelled for about two-and-a-half hours through farms and on tar-sealed roads to the city for one purpose — to meet Miri fire chief Supt Law Poh Kiong.
According to Law, among the issues discussed were proper wiring, party wall, entrances and exits, building materials, longhouse design as recommended by the state government, fire hydrants and insurance.
They also discussed fire safety training and the importance of setting up a Bomba community.
Apparently, some of these villagers went through the painful experience of a longhouse fire back in the 1980s. After the incident, some moved to the city while others stayed back in the village but built their own standalone houses.
However, deep in their hearts, the longhouse is where they all belonged.
Determine to do so, they came together with the aim of building a new 34-‘bilek’ longhouse on a ‘gotong-royong’ basis starting next month. In fact, they have bought the necessary materials using their own funds, which they saved over the years.
When asked what prompted these villagers to seek Bomba’s advice, Law said Salin participated in the department’s retraining programme on Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) that was held at Sepupok, Niah, on Dec 10.
During the programme, Law told all the participants about the importance of proper planning and to seek advice before building a new longhouse or even on the existing ones for fire safety.
Feeling thrilled and deeply moved by Salin and his group, Law said since joining the service 34 years ago, this was the first time that a group of longhouse folks came together to get advice from Bomba.
“I am very proud of them, and at the same time, deeply moved by these people who are willing to accept suggestions and opinions. For many years, we have been telling them to do so and it is happening, finally.
“It shows that Salin and his group are serious about having a safer longhouse, knowledgeable about fire and safety and also able to live peacefully,” said Law.
Although this is the first case, Law felt he could finally see a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, where people are willing to follow Bomba’s safety guidelines to ensure the wellbeing of their families and neighbours.
“We, in Bomba, want to help these folks to keep the unique traditional longhouse for as long as possible. So, this is a good start. From one longhouse, we hope it will open the floodgates to more, meaning we hope others will follow suit,” Law said.
Apart from CERT, the department regularly organises other initiatives such as summer camps, Bomba community and voluntary fire services.
So far this year, fires have gutted 24 longhouses in the state. Last year, the figure stood at 26, and in 2016, there were 20.
Meanwhile, state Bomba director Khirudin Drahman applauded Salin and his folks for taking the initiative to seek advice from his men.
“It shows their understanding and concern, especially towards their own community and heritage. They also realised that it is only they themselves who can determine their safety and wellbeing,” he said.
Khirudin added that their readiness to open up to suggestions and advice would make things easier for the department in particular and the government, in general. — DayakDaily