State Bomba to investigate allegations fire hydrants a ‘wayang’ gesture

The blaze at its height at Uma Bawang, Sungai Asap on April 15, 2019.

By Nancy Nais

KUCHING, April 21: Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) will conduct an investigation into the allegation that the fire hydrant project in Sg Asap, Belaga was only a ‘wayang’ gesture.

Responding to an online report by Sarawak Report, state Bomba director Khirudin Drahman said claims made in the report were deemed as very serious allegations.

The report came to light after the recent Uma Bawang longhouse fire.

Two out of five longhouse blocks in the village were reduced to ashes on April 15, making 407 occupants in the 42-door longhouse homeless.

The online portal cited Bintulu-based Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) activist Stephen Kuleh who amongst other allegations, claimed that an emergency call was made at 5.45pm to the Bintulu fire station but firefighters only arrive the scene at 10pm, the new hydrants were useless because they don’t work and there was no fire drill or exercise for the village folks.

The portal also claimed that smoke alarm devices have not been installed in the ‘modern’ development of Sungai Asap while the recent fire hydrant project was a classic ‘wayang’ (just for show) gesture for the rural people.

The longhouse is located some 250km away from the nearest fire station, which is in Bintulu.

According to Bomba’s records, Khirudin clarified that firefighters arrived at 8.44pm and thus questioned the portal’s report and Kuleh’s claims that they only arrive at 10pm.

“I’ve also checked, the hydrants in Sg Asap are functioning and not as claimed by the portal,” Khirudin told DayakDaily, adding that the hydrants at Sg Asap was built by Ministry of Utilities as a state rural project.

Khirudin explained that in order for a hydrant to work, there is a ‘hose coupling’ where an adaptor is needed for connection purposes.

This particular longhouse has its own volunteer firefighters (PBS) and as the first team to arrive at the scene, they are supposed to know what to do.

Khirudin also lamented that onlookers who could have helped during the incident chose to stand, look and take videos of the fire.

According to Sg Asap PBS chief Lewon Tirah, the allegations reported by Sarawak Report were created by people who were not at the site.

Tirah who was at the scene during the incident said it was there was nothing like what was reported by the portal.

“Bomba has always been sincere in efforts of engaging with the local communities on fire safety and prevention. I’ve repeated many times that fire prevention is a joint responsibility and not just that of the fire department.

“You cannot depend on Bomba alone. Bomba is unable to do this on our own. We need the help and cooperation from all, including those villages in the rural areas that are far flung from the nearest fire station. The establishment of the volunteer firefighting team is for the same reason,” he said.

Over the years, he said Bomba has analysed numerous cases and the majority of these fires are due to human factors, which is the 3L syndrome – ‘Lupa, Leka, Lalai’, (forgetful, complacent and careless), labelling them as the “culprit” of many incidents.

Meanwhile, Khirudin reiterated the state Bomba’s commitment to continuously hold fire safety programmes for as many communities as it could. He emphasised that it is important for each and everyone to learn how to deal with emergency situations, such as fire pending the arrival of firefighters, as it could help minimise potential losses.

For more details on the issue of longhouse fires in Sarawak, DayakDaily has written a five-part series which can be read here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. — DayakDaily