It’s dangerous but that’s the job, say firefighters

Firefighters stand at attention around the coffin of one of the search and rescue divers who died trying to find a teenager in a disused mining pond in Puchong. (Bernama pic)

PORT DICKSON: The nation is still in shock over the loss of six firefighters who drowned trying to rescue a teenager from a disused mining pond.

The boy had been out on a fishing trip with two friends when he slipped and fell into the pond, which also acts as a retention pool for floodwaters.

Heavy rain had caused strong currents and whirlpools in the pool due to the fast overflow of rainwater into it.

The specialised Fire and Rescue Department’s Water Rescue Unit officers died after being sucked into a whirlpool in the mining pool.

The tragedy is a painful reminder of how our firefighters often risk their lives to serve the public.

Adnan Othman, 33, was one of the firefighters who died. At the burial service, his brother-in-law, Ahmad Haziqi, a police officer, said he could not believe that Adnan is now gone.

“He has left two daughters. The younger one is weeping and repeating that she doesn’t want her father to leave her.

“She keeps saying she wants her daddy. I can’t describe my feelings right now,” said Ahmad.

Faizal Ahmad, the assistant superintendent of the Negeri Sembilan Fire and Rescue Department, said, “When you join the Fire and Rescue Department, you pledge to serve the people, even if it means dying in the line of duty.”

Speaking to FMT outside the Raja Jumaat Muslim cemetery in Lukut, Faizal said, “No firefighter will ever ignore a distress call, regardless of the danger involved.

“We don’t only put out fires. People turn to us for help in all kinds of situations. Some are small emergencies like retrieving mobile phones from toilet bowls or keys locked inside cars; others are life or death situations like Puchong.

“We are not Superman, but we are always ready to come to their rescue and do our best. That is our job,” he said.

“We are all very saddened by this tragedy. The lost men belonged to an elite unit who undergo specialised training. They have dived in deeper waters in other search and rescue missions,” he said. “But sometimes there are unexpected complications which can be fatal.”

A senior officer who was also present at the cemetery, while requesting anonymity, said the public needs to be more aware of their surroundings and the possible consequences of their actions.

“When I joined the Fire and Rescue Department I was not fully aware of the dangers I would be putting myself in,” he said. “But you learn quickly and train hard, and you serve the people to the best of your ability. The responsibility is great and we are constantly under very high pressure.”

He was a member of the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide rescue team in 2008 when a massive slippage buried many bungalows and caused multiple casualties.

He said that operation was an example of how much danger firefighters can face during their rescue missions.

“I still remember, although we were warned of the possibility of a second landslide, the search and rescue teams carried on searching for victims regardless of the danger they themselves faced,” he said.

It is testimony to their courage and training that the death toll at Puchong still has the power to shock us.

Every day, firefighters risk their lives across Malaysia. Most of us never give them a thought until we need them to pull our car out of the mud or dispose of a snake lurking in the monsoon drain.

And it is only real tragedies like Puchong that remind us of the huge debt we will always owe them.