Sabah to have nation’s first water village fire-fighting unit

Urban wellbeing, housing and local government ministry secretary-general Mohammad Mentek (middle) taking a selfie with newly-trained fire and rescue department personnel in Kota Kinabalu today.

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah fire and rescue department will have Malaysia’s first “water village” unit, in Semporna, this year.

Urban wellbeing, housing and local government ministry secretary-general Mohammad Mentek said the unit would specialise in fire- fighting and rescue operations in water settlements, which are plenty in Sabah, especially in the east coast.

“The water settlement unit will comprise existing personnel who will be given special training to combat fire and to conduct rescue operations in water settlements,” he said.

He said the ministry had also approved an allocation of RM50 million to build a fire and rescue department training centre in Sabah.

This would be the centre of excellence for fire-fighting and rescue operation in water settlements and oil and gas rigs, as well as the three-year-old mountain search and rescue (MOSAR) unit, Mohammad added at a fire and rescue personnel training course here today.

The training centre, which can accommodate up to 200 trainees at a time, will be built on a 30-acre site in Tuaran near here. It is targeted for completion in three years’ time.

With the establishment of the water settlement, oil and gas, and MOSAR units, Sabah will be the home base of these three units specialised to tackle Sabah’s geographical challenges.

Mohammad expects the training centre to be recognised internationally and, subsequently train fire and rescue teams from Southeast Asian countries.

However, he had some bad news as well. He said Sabah and Sarawak would continue to share two search and rescue (SAR) helicopters based out of Miri despite the purchase of two brand new AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters recently.

The previous government had promised two new helicopters each for Sabah and Sarawak and many Sabahans had been excited about it.

Mohammad said the AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters would be placed at Subang for now.

“For Sabah and Sarawak, we have two existing operational Russian-made Mi-17 choppers stationed in Miri. They can cover Sabah and Sarawak.”

Previously, former urban wellbeing, housing and local government minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan had announced that Sabah and Sarawak would have two helicopters each to be used by the fire department for search and rescue operations.

He had said this after the devastating 6.0-magnitude earthquake in June 2015 which claimed 18 lives on Mount Kinabalu.

Sabahans had welcomed the announcement to station airborne assets in the state, which is known to be the most tectonically active in the country due to its proximity to the major plate boundary faults in the Philippines and Sulawesi.

Mohammad, however, assured today that the ministry would review the needs of the various areas in the future.

“It is our intention to increase our assets such as helicopters but this depends on the government’s affordability,” he said.