Remaining calm in the face of hazards

A firefighter in the water rescue unit checking the station’s diving equipment. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

BEING level-headed is crucial for a rescue diver as the job involves working in dangerous conditions, especially during the monsoon season.

Continuous training is important so they are better prepared mentally and physically for any eventuality.

Skudai Fire and Rescue Department water rescue unit (PPDA) supervisor Mohd Kamal Shaari recalls one mission that remains etched in his memory — the drowning incident involving eight teenagers in February 2014.

“I was called in to go to Sungai Buloh Kasap in Segamat for the search and rescue operations.

“At first, I could not believe it because there had never been a drowning incident involving so many victims before.

“We started our diving operations around 3pm and stopped at about 4.30am the next day.

“The search was continued by diving teams from other states before all eight bodies were finally recovered.

“Maintaining one’s composure is very important in any rescue operation, especially when diving underwater.

“With zero visibility and zero buoyancy, we need to rely on our sense of touch,” he said.Among the hazards the rescue divers have dealt with are driftwood, huge rocks and even getting tangled up in fishing nets and hooks.

“It is difficult but rescue divers must remain calm when removing a victim’s body underwater.

“I just tell myself that I am helping to return the victims to their families so that they will have a proper final resting place,” said Mohd Kamal.

He highlighted that Johor was the only state in Malaysia that used the Ocean Technology System (OTS) to communicate underwater.With the OTS, divers can converse in real time with the operation commander above water.

The conventional method is through rope signal or pull line signal.

“We also have a surface supplied air system, which means we can be underwater for a longer time,” Mohd Kamal explained.

Johor Fire and Rescue Department PPDA chief Mohd Riduan Akhyar said there were 52 personnel in the unit.

“Each has to undergo 10 hours of dive training every month and must pass lung function and hearing tests set by the Royal Malaysian Navy.

“If a member is found to be unfit, he will be removed from the team,” he said.

The 52 personnel are responsible for four zones across Johor.

“The first zone is Skudai, Johor Baru; the second zone is Penawar in Kota Tinggi; the third zone is Kluang and the fourth zone covers Muar and Bandar Baru Segamat,” said Mohd Riduan.

He said training was carried out either in a swimming pool, river or lake.

Each team member’s skills, theoretical knowledge, equipment know-how and competency are evaluated, aside from mentally preparing them for real scenarios.

“The potential for drowning cases goes up during school holidays, and it is even higher during the monsoon season.

“So it is in the best interest of parents and guardians to ensure that their child does not go near flood-prone areas,” advised Mohd Riduan who is also the Skudai fire station chief.

Johor Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Yahaya Madis said preparations — in terms of manpower and assets to face the monsoon season from this month to April next year — had been made.

“We have 1,284 personnel from our department as well as 149 auxiliary firefighters at 33 fire stations across the state working in 12-hour shifts every day.

“If the situation gets worse, it will shift to 24 hours.

“At the moment, leave applications have been limited to only 10% and will be frozen if necessary,” he elaborated.

The department’s operation centre in Putrajaya has also prepared its regional forward base (RFB) to face the monsoon season.

Yahaya said the RFB located in Ayer Hitam fire station involved fire department logistics and manpower from three states — Melaka, Negri Sembilan and Johor.

“The RFB is a mobile unit and can be stationed anywhere,” he said.

If a large-scale flood occurs within these three states, the RFB will be on standby 24 hours and all assets and manpower will be used to assist with rescue operations.

Yahaya said the department had 42 boats, including an amphibious rigid inflatable boat.

Every fire station is equipped with either one or two boats.

The department has prepared 957 personal flotation devices, 300 raincoats, 50 chainsaws and 30 rescue ropes, aside from 12 lorries, 56 four-wheel drives and 19 emergency medical response service vehicles.

“We also have two new fibre boats that were donated by Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad.

“They are excellent for rescue operations in the city as they are lighter,” he said, adding that the department had also trained 54 personnel in boat handling.

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