PETALING JAYA: Last month’s tragic landslide in Batang Kali saw two elite groups of rescuers rush to the aid of victims – the Special Tactical Operation and Rescue Team of Malaysia (STORM) and Multi Skill Team (MUST).
Both teams come under the Fire and Rescue Department’s purview. But how does one qualify to be part of this squad? It is no walk in the park for sure.
STORM trainees face a number of gruelling tasks to start with as part of their training.
They have to complete a 7km run in under 45 minutes and go through a barrage of physical challenges, including sit-ups, pull-ups, and an endurance test.
“There are several tests that are carried out and there are no breaks in between,” senior Selangor Fire and Rescue Department officer Razi Abd Muttalib told FMT.
Razi said the training also includes carrying out regular tasks that are done by all firemen, such as laying out hoses, winding them up, and carrying fire extinguishers up flights of stairs.
“They have to complete the course in less than 12 minutes,” he added.
These are just part of the gruelling tasks required of anyone who wants to be an “elite” rescuer, he said.
According to Razi, less than a quarter of the 200 applicants who start the course are successful in completing it, in order to be certified and move to the next stage.
Those who overcome the first round of tests then begin a one-month training programme where they are required to carry weights while walking 18km in less than five hours. Participants are supplied with food and water, and although they are allowed to rest, they must return to the base in the allocated time.
“That’s where various reactions, emotions, and tension come into play,” he said.
As for MUST, which had been established for nearly 25 years, members are trained to become a rapid high-mobility team, who are ready to be flown to any location and face any terrain.
Deputy head of Zone 6 SL, Sabri Jamaluddin, said MUST members must master communication skills, be able to read maps, search forests, and know how to handle poisonous animals.
Any operation in the wild also means that MUST members are “cut off” from the outside world due to limitations in terms of communications and technology.
“These MUST candidates are also required to have some medical training, which not everyone can get,” he said.
Sabri added that each member will also have to live in a swamp for a week, as part of their training, adding that this was intended to help them perform rescue work in swampy areas.
As MUST operates with aircraft, especially helicopters, all of its officers are certified to conduct rescue operations on such aircraft.
During the Batang Kali landslide, STORM, MUST, K9 units and other rescue teams saved dozens of victims who were trapped under the mud and retrieved the bodies of those who perished in the tragedy.
As difficult as operations are, camaraderie is the key to making them successful, said Razi and Sabri.
“When your body is unable to find the strength to continue, the encouragement from your friends pushes you through. That’s why these teams have been successful from the start,” Razi added.