Female firefighters are real-life wonder women (Part 3)

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(read Part 1 and Part 2)

By Nancy Nais and Karen Bong

KUCHING, July 1: DayakDaily journalists were recently given the opportunity to join Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) personnel undertaking search and rescue (SAR) training at Mount Santubong.

The training, headed by Petra Jaya fire station chief Tan Min Chai, involved several firefighters including those from the Special Tactical Operation and Rescue Team of Malaysia (STORM), Emergency Medical Rescue Services (EMRS), Multi-Skill Team (MUST) and Hazardous Material Unit Team (HAZMAT).

Four female firefighters from different units were also part of the training group, where together hand-in-hand, they had to rescue a ‘victim’ who was suffering from spine and leg injuries after a fall.

From left: Female firefighters Josephine Pojen, Liddya Sapiee, Faliza Safri and Penny Johnny Nauh, were among those who took part in the recent SAR training at Mount Santubong.

The legendary and majestic Mount Santubong, is a favourite spot among local and foreign mountain climbers. Standing at 2,658 above sea level, it is about 45 minutes’ drive from the city.

Some of the trails are challenging, but for hardcore hikers, it is a rewarding achievement once they reach the mountain top.

However, Mount Santubong is also one of the most ‘famous’ local spots for missing or stranded hikers in recent years.

According to Tan, in 2016, the Petra Jaya fire station received three such cases, followed by four (2017), two (2018) and three as of June this year, totaling 11 SAR cases at Mount Santubong so far in less than four years.

“For SAR cases on Mount Santubong, most of them involve people stranded due to tiredness and muscle cramps. Very rarely we get cases of lost climbers because the main trek to Mount Santubong has clear indicators and easy-to-see signs,” Tan said, adding that those who want to climb it or any mountain, must not take it lightly.

Due to the difficulty levels and steepness of the routes, he said some climbers who are not well prepared in terms of fitness and adequate water supply will be at risk for getting stranded and injured.

“In addition to fitness factors, climbers who start their journey later in the day also became the source of risk of being stranded due to darkness and forest covered with mist,” Tan added.

Firefighters in action during SAR training at Mount Santubong.

Sarawak Bomba director Khirudin Drahman echoed similar advice, emphasising ample preparations should be made when venturing into a challenging task, such as climbing Mount Santubong.

Other aspects that should be considered by hikers include bringing along necessities such as torchlights, enough food and water, and always seeking assistance from mountain guides for first-timers.

Speaking at the end of the SAR training on Mount Santubong, Khirudin said there are only 1,201 firefighters in Sarawak to protect the lives of a 2.7 million population.

Of the 1,201 firefighters, only seven per cent are female.

“As a woman firefighter, they will have the same responsibilities as their male counterparts. They must be prepared to attend daily drills, operate heavy equipment and respond to hundreds of calls, from fires and water rescue to car crashes and searching for missing persons.

“They must also be able to provide first aid, treat sick or injured people, inspect and monitor property and carry,” he said, adding that some of these women are also trained for specialised units and tasks.

Firefighters in action during SAR training at Mount Santubong.

In Sarawak, it is rare to see women firefighters when Bomba conducts SAR operations.

“There are cases where we have female victims and they need certain assistance or medical treatment but all of our firefighters during the operations are male. That is why we need to train more female firefighters so that gender issues will not arise in Sarawak.

“Bomba has always take (these factors) into account especially on sensitive issues, so there should be a woman firefighter that handles women victims. Apart from that, we can also increase public confidence in our rescue services,” Khirudin said.

He noted rescue missions especially at high altitudes and using ropes are not easy.

“As you’ve witnessed (the operation) and the equipment they use, it requires training, consistency and most importantly, teamwork.”

Since female firefighters are important and very much needed in the department, Khirudin hoped that there will be more women out there who are interested and will choose this profession as their career.

Group photo of firefighters with Dayak Daily journalists Nancy Nais and Karen Bong after the SAR training at Mount Santubong.

(Part 4 coming soon.)

— DayakDaily