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By Nancy Nais and Karen Bong
KUCHING, June 18: When we talk about firefighters, people generally think of ‘Abang Bomba’ or male firefighters driving trucks, taking the hose, dousing fires, scaling buildings or swimming to save victims.
Despite the prevalence of men on the force, not to be overlooked are the female firefighters sharing the burden, too. What draws these women to the fire service is a love for the job and a strong commitment to serve others.
Firefighters do a lot more than respond to fires. They also rescue people from car wrecks, provide emergency medical aid, respond to hazardous material spills, inspect buildings, provide fire safety education to the community, investigate arson and others.
They often work 24-hour shifts, away from their loved ones, and female firefighters do face unique challenges in serving in one of the oldest and most honourable professions around.
When DayakDaily spoke to several female firefighters who are currently serving in different sections and units with the state Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba), one thing they highlighted is that their “physical strength and abilities” are constantly called into question.
As a female firefighter for 12 years, Penny Johnny Nauh, 31, said, “I cannot tell you how many times men asked me, ‘Would you be able to carry me out of a burning building?’.”
She is willing to wager that every female firefighter has been asked this question at some point in her career, if not repeatedly.
“There’s no doubt that firefighting requires extraordinary physical and mental strength, but firefighting is not just about brute strength. It also requires a very special mindset that includes a passion to save lives, compassion for people and ultimate love for the job,” Penny said.
The petite but steadfast lady who is based at the Tabuan Jaya fire station is not any ordinary female firefighter. Her love for chemistry, physics and biology in school as well as enthusiasm to take part in extreme activities not only made her select firefighting as a career in 2007 but also led to her being the first Sarawakian woman firefighter to be accepted into the department’s Hazmat special unit in 2011.
Known as the hazardous material unit, Hazmat firefighters handle hazardous chemical spills, radioactive and radiation-emitting materials, fire caused by hazardous materials, and decontaminate fellow Bomba personnel that have been exposed to hazardous materials.
Faliza Safri, 34, on the other hand, used to serve Bomba Kuala Lumpur High Rise Rescue Team (HRRT). Currently back in Sarawak, the tall and beautiful Faliza is based at the Bau fire station.
Asked whether she volunteered to join the HRRT team, Faliza said she wanted to be in the team because she had a liking for heights and ropes.
“There are thousands of high-rise buildings in Kuala Lumpur and other cities in Peninsular Malaysia. When the department decided to set up HRRT, I was all out and eager to be in the team.
“As a firefighter, I want to prove to all that women are also capable of doing things like men. I do not want people to look down on women,” she said matter-of-factly.
When it comes to encouraging more Sarawakian women to join the force, Penny and Faliza both advised, “Before you apply, you must have the love and interest in your heart to be one and set your mind on it. Get yourself ready physically and mentally. Do your homework. There will be many challenges ahead, but never be afraid. Force yourself to the limit.
“Once you’re in the force, always remember to stay confident, block yourself from becoming weak, walk with your chin up and be proud of being a firefighter. It is a noble job, so keep the reputation as it is.”
Meanwhile, DayakDaily was given the opportunity to participate in a Search and Rescue (SAR) training at Mount Santubong recently.
Firefighters from Petra Jaya station, including those from the special unit Special Tactical Operation and Rescue Team of Malaysia (STORM), Emergency Medical Rescue Services (EMRS) took part in the training. Penny and Faliza were in the thick of action too to rescue a ‘victim’ who was found with back injuries and a broken leg.
(Part 2 to come)