GUEST column

The civilised nations always remember martyrs and observe incident day to transfer information of courageous work of unsung heroes to next staff or generation for better understanding of the incident and learning lesson from the original scenario.

The martyrs in the rescue and firefighting field sets examples in the line of internal defense as they take risk to save precious human lives and properties in case of any emergency and disaster. This is the reason rescuers / firefighters are respected world over due to the nature of unique and risky job they perform to save lives and properties of others. The 20th December 2008 was horrible day in the history of Pakistan, especially for the rescuers and firefighters. This is a day of paying tribute to13 heroes of the nation who lost their lives during Ghakkar Plaza fire fighting & rescue operation. Out of 13 firefighters four were from Rescue 1122, one from Municipal Fire Brigade Rawalpindi, six from Pakistan Ordinance Factory (POF) Wah Cant and two were from Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Islamabad. I cannot forget the tragic incident and situation of all concerned people who have lost their loved ones. The rescuers were searching and rescuing people trapped in the building and it was test of nerves to get access to the firefighters trapped in the five-storey collapsed building. Rescue 1122 firefighters crew was the leading crew and had crossed half of the building in firefighting operation when building got collapsed. Rescuers got access to the martyred rescuers Idrees, Musa Lodhi, Kashif Anar and Shafqat Hussain on 4th day of operation and combined funeral prayer along with guard of honour had been conducted at Central Rescue Station, Rawal Road Rawalpindi. The whole district administration including district coordination officer, commissioner, Station Commander Brig Sajjad, Founder Director General Dr RizwanNaseer representatives from government of Punjab, rescue officers and public attended in the funeral ceremony. Besides that, services rendered by all firefighters, officers from all concerned organizations are always remembered and acknowledged and cannot be forgotten. The support provided by the government of Punjab was commendable at that time. The former senior member PML(N) Makhdoom Javed Hasmi visited the incident site and then rescue station to show solidarity with rescuers and conveyed message of the Chief Minister Shahbaz Shirif. I remember that was the first incident in Pakistan in the profession of firefighting where government provided full ownership to the employees and they ensured full support from the government. Upon directions of the Chief Minister Punjab, the Founder Director General Dr Rizwan Naseer along with district administration Rawalpindi the compensation has been given to all martyrs’ families within a week. Commissioner Rawalpindi Haseeb Athar and District Coordination Officer Imdadullah Bosal organized a ‘Tahzeeti reference’ at Rawalpindi Arts Council to pay rich tribute to the martyrs, acknowledging the services of the Ghazis and representatives from all concerned departments.

The Ghakkar plaza was heartfelt incident for the business community and all those who were employed there. It is important to mention what we have learnt from the tragic incident for dealing firefighting and rescue operations in a better way in future. As firefighting profession is highly technical, structured and supplied with various artifacts, which help decide actions in unpredictable and complex situation, it involves special skills to fight with flames, and rescue precious human lives and properties. Formal trainings related to firefighting helps minimize risk by practicing safety procedures and get command over them. It is not only our country where firefights got martyrs, major terrorist attack in New York City and Washington DC witnessed the firefighters as the primary responders responded the incident and more than 300 firefighters lost their lives while responding to attack on the World Trade Center. West fertilizer co-explosion on 3 May, 2013 highlighted the tough and volatile work of firefighters.

It has been learnt from the previous experiences that all incidents are varied in nature from one another and there is always need to improve methodologies, practices, equipment. Since 2008 the Emergency Service Rescue 1122 has improved a lot by having modern equipment, conducting advance training and initiating community safety program. Presently, the management of the emergency service under supervision of Brig (Retd) Arshad Zia is continuously working hard for strengthening the emergency service by addressing further needs for prompt best emergency response to all such complex emergencies. It is the immense pleasure for all the professional of the emergency service that just few days back the chief minister also approved the summary to establish 9 Urban search and rescue teams at divisional level. It will be definitely a great support to have specialized teams with heavy and latest search and rescue equipment. This life saving force has so far rescued over 3.8 million people in different emergencies, including over 72154 fire emergencies, and maintained average response time of 7 to 10 minutes. The unsung heroes not only saved precious human lives rather saved properties worth billions of rupees in fire emergencies.

Everybody must remember that sprinkling water is not firefighting, it is highly risky job to perform when they reach at scene, make proper entry to access the victims, and perform evacuation of trapped victims at safe place besides fighting with different types and stages of the fire. The sacrifices of the unsung heroes provided way forward to the organizations and community as safety is responsibility of all of us. We must think before compromising safety as loss of live and property can be big setback due to unsafe practices. The building owners must follow fire safety standards as per building bylaws and concerned building authorities needs to ensure implementation of building by laws to promote safety culture.

We pay rich tribute to all firefighters especially martyrs whose countless work efforts giving us hope that we are in safe hands. May Allah rest departed souls of firefighters in heaven and we salute to the real heroes of the nations for their countless invisible efforts for developing safer communities in Pakistan. May Allah keep all rescuers and firefighters safe, healthy and prosperous.

—The writer Deeba Shahnaz Akhter is emergency officer at Rescue 1122.