BUTTERWORTH: As tow truck service runner Tan Chin Leong rides his motorcycle back and forth across the Penang Bridge daily, he is not just looking out for vehicles that break down but also keeping an eye for people who look like they are about to jump off the bridge.
Fondly known as “Ah Heang”, the 40-year-old bachelor is one of the winners of this year’s Star Golden Hearts award for rescuing more than 10 people from ending their lives over the past decade.
There is no comfortable office chair or eight-hour job for Tan. Instead, he waits for reports on his walkie-talkie.
He starts work at about 6am before the rush-hour begins and finishes around midnight.
Sometimes, the reports, which come in during the early hours, aren’t about stalled or wrecked vehicles but sightings of people standing at the edge of the bridge.
Tan, who started working as a tow truck service runner after finishing school, said most people who contemplated suicide were easy to identify.
“They always come alone. Most would be teary-eyed, while some would still be crying.
“They look pale and sombre – a sign that they have lost hope and see suicide as the last resort,” he added.
Sometimes, workers at the toll plazas spot them first, especially motorcyclists who ride past without helmets or proper attire.
“These are abnormal behaviour that need to be monitored,” Tan said.
The methods he uses to stop people from jumping off the bridge range from verbally consoling them to physically pulling them off the ledge.
In December last year, a picture of Tan holding on to a 30-year-old woman he had just saved was published in the local dailies.
Tan said he spotted the woman, who had parked her car by the roadside.
He stopped his motorcycle, ran towards her and grabbed hold of her.
“In the process of bringing her to safety, she struggled and bit my arm until it bled but I would not let go,” Tan recalled.
The PLUS response team then helped to restrain her before police took her away.
Not all of Tan’s attempts to save lives ended happily.
“Early last year, I stopped a 52-year-old man from jumping.
“I believe he owed money to loan sharks and he was distraught.
“He said he wanted to die. I talked to him to buy time while waiting for the police to arrive and managed to bring him to safety.”
But three days later, the man went back to the bridge, jumped off and died.
Tan’s advice to people is to not give up easily on their lives.
“I have friends and family members and I am thankful, every single day, for having them around.
“Everyone should also cherish their loved ones.
“Suicide never solves anything,” he added.
This year’s Star Golden Hearts Award is supported by Gamuda. For more articles, go to thestar.com.my/stargoldenheartsaward.