Mention the word ‘firefighter’ and most people would picture a person fully clad in a flame resistant uniform putting out a fire, but there is more than meets the eye in being a firefighter.
While it may sound easy to some, it is not easy, nor are firefighters restricted to only putting out fires.
The general perception that all firefighters have to do is wait around for a fire to happen, is a false one.
Firefighters are the people who risk their lives in order to make sure that others are safe.
Their job scope covers a range of other duties and these heroes in red are constantly exposed to risks which could result in death while on duty.
With so many cases reported on a daily basis, it is quite obvious that firefighters are required to be strong and brave emergency responders who fulfill their duties without expecting anything in return.
Some of these missions are life-threatening which may result in firefighters losing their lives, and yet, these are the strong souls who unfailingly fulfil their responsibilities without expecting anything in return.
The amount of physical and mental strength they have to put in during rescue missions speaks of hard grit and perseverance.
Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) state director Nor Hisham Mohammad said they served with dedication to protect society in unexpected situations which give rise to emergencies.
Modern fire departments are tasked with multiple responsibilities beyond responding to structural or vehicle fires.
“We also respond to medical emergencies, water rescues, hazardous materials incidents, vehicle accidents, people trapped in buildings, (search for) lost hikers and so much more.
“We get cats down from trees or roofs, we have rescued cows caught in wells, adults and children’s arms or legs caught in toilets or pipes, stuck earrings on children’s ears and even crocodiles,” he said, laughing at the recollection.
“When tragedy does strike, we respond to whatever it is and make it better in whatever way we can. We are always ready for you, 24-hours every day at anytime and anywhere. It is as simple as that; you call, we respond to your call,” Nor Hisham said.
He also cautioned, should an emergency situation happen, it is important for the public to inform the correct authorities to deploy rescue missions.
“The public should contact Bomba before taking pictures and posting them on social media. It shouldn’t be a competition of who posts the incident first. It should be the other way round; contact the correct authorities to send a rescue mission,” he urged.
Some firefighters are also trained to conduct first-aid medical care for accident or disaster victims.
Nor Hisham said the establishment of a pre-hospital care service team was one of the many efforts opted for by the department to improve its service delivery to the public.
He also touched on the department’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) such as response time.
Although there are SOPs that they strictly adhere to, there will be delays due to traffic and geographical conditions.
For situations requiring a fast response, they will deploy Rapid Intervention Motorcycles (RIMs) to the scene as means of clearing the road or to act as part of the team to perform early containment actions before the main team arrives.
He explained that the RIM unit consists of personnel which are trained for different roles including fire-extinguishing, rescue and paramedic services.
Despite this, they still face recurring issues, such as getting to rural fires which may take firefighters longer than their targetted response time.
This is due to hindrances posed by the terrain and other factors, especially in rural Sarawak which covers a vast expanse of territory.
To understand these challenges, it is as simple as using Google Maps and switching to satellite view to see the significant number of isolated villages or longhouses that are hours away from the nearest fire stations.
This also means that the local fire station in one rural location is tasked to cover a large, significant area, which will increase the delay between distress call and the time the firefighters reach the fire.
Adding to the challenge is the poor conditions of roads in rural areas.
Some places are only accessible through unfavorable routes like logging roads, which will turn muddy and unaccessible when it rains.
Additionally, in the event that the fire-fighting vehicles reach the scene of the fire in time, rural longhouses or villages rarely have fire hydrants, so the first responders will have to use other resources like water tanks, (providing that they are not dried or faulty), or water from the river, which will delay the response time even more.
Thus, to address difficult situations like this, Bomba is also involved in making the community safer through fire prevention and fire-awareness education programmes.
The department has formed Bomba Community at the village level which functions as a community emergency response team.
In Sarawak, there are over 50 volunteer firefighter groups, where the communities are educated on fire prevention and safety.
Members will undergo training with Bomba personnel and in the event of a fire, they may provide early assistance before the firefighters arrive.
Nor Hisham also advised village folks against building their homes too close to one another, and to make provision for firefighting equipment like extinguishers, water pumps and water hoses.
Volunteer firefighters are not born with special talents; they are simply men and women of all ranks and assignments who are willing to train and prepare themselves in the event that one day, they may be presented with a situation that requires them to act in a selfless manner that exceeds normal expectations.
Who knows, one day, these volunteer firefighters may end up making it a full time career and commitment to keep the people safe and sound. — DayakDaily