Times of Oman
Aug 28, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 11:41 AM GMT
Bitter-sweet fight for Omani firefighters
August 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
There are three groups working in civil defence that are responsible for different operations. The personnel have to participate in training programmes to enhance their level of preparedness. Photo – Times of Oman

Muscat: Many people may be afraid of dying in fire but for firefighters, who put their lives at risk every time they battle the flames, saving lives comes way before their fears.

It was Eid Al Fitr holidays, but Ali Al Rasbi and Yaser Al Omiri were on alert along with their colleagues to respond immediately to any emergency situation, and to make sure that people remain safe while enjoying their time off.

I like my job, and I can tell my wife about safety measures and first aid... It would keep herself and family members safe

Ali Al Rasbi

Firefighting is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding and requires immeasurable sacrifice, but the two Omani firefighters say they find the job 'rewarding' at the same time.

They were all smiles talking about their job and said despite the tough challenges, it is nice to have people's prayers with them and also to have the chance to know more about safety-related matters.

The stakes are high but it feels good to help the people, said Al Rasbi, who has been involved in rescue operations for the past 16 years.

Speaking to the Times of Oman, he said that he begins the day by checking all the vehicles to make sure that all the equipment are there. "I check everything and go through the checklists and report any missing item so that we do not face any problem during the operation. I also make sure that all the equipment is working properly," Al Rasbi said.

He added that sometimes after a check, either there is a training session at their workplace or they go to conduct a drill at schools, banks or other institutions to raise awareness about safety and teach people how to handle an emergency situation.

Al Rasbi also goes to classes after training and talks to the civil defence employees to help enhance their level of preparedness.

"Some staff members are really good during the training sessions. They are 100 per cent ready, but when it comes to a real life situation, they start to panic and face some problems," he added.

According to him, there are three groups working in civil defence who are responsible for different operations.

One group is in charge of attending to fire incidents, the rescue operation group handles car accidents and sometimes elevator accidents, and the diving team is responsible for drowning incidents and helps maintain the safety of the beaches, he explained.

Asked why he chose to become a firefighter, Al Rasbi said he was offered a job as a rescue diver and then underwent various training programmes, including one in Abu Dhabi.

Now he can help handle all types of operations.

Family life
He is getting married soon but says his job will not negatively affect his family life and would rather help improve it.

"I like my job, and I can tell my wife about safety measures and first aid so that she would not panic when something happens and would be able to keep herself and other family members safe. It helps the whole family."

Commenting on the main challenges he experiences while fighting raging flames, Al Rasbi said that the main thing is the possibility of an explosion caused by electricity. "Also, sometimes there is not enough water and we have to ask for more. At a time like this, people on spot keep complaining and shouting and ask us why we are not doing anything even though we are doing our best."

Safety matters
He says that some people do not take safety matters seriously and if they did, it can easily prevent a tragedy. Unfortunately, some owners rent out their buildings to more people than the property can accommodate to make more profit without taking any safety measures regarding cooking appliances and other items, Al Rasbi said.

He added that faulty electrical outlets and old wiring are to blame for a significant number of
the incidents.

Commercial units, even small coffee shops, can ask the civil defence department to help them equip their facility with fire extinguishers and blankets and help them with safety measures, Al Rasbi commented.

He also advised the people to change their extinguisher when it expires and buy new ones from fire shops.

Asked if firefighters become used to seeing tragic scenes, he said that with the passage of time, they learn to keep a calm head and control their emotions but still there are memories that keep haunting them for a long time.

"One of my worst experiences was Gonu. I feel like crying whenever I remember it," Al Rasbi said.

Another painful memory that still rushes back to him sometimes is the death of an entire family. "I was about to break down. The parents and their two children had died. I would have felt the same way for my own children."   

He also said that once he had to take a body out of a wadi which had been found after 11 days. "It was a partially decomposed body and was smelling very bad. I had the bad smell in my nose for a long time."

Despite such incidents, Al Rasbi says that he has many fond memories of his successful operations and saving people's lives, which helps him keep going.

Difficult but safe
Yaser Al Omiri, another Omani firefighter who began his job five years ago, believes that he is very lucky to have the opportunity to work as a firefighter. "My job is difficult, especially when we have to put out a big fire, but it is good at the same time. It was my good luck. I am happy that God gave me this chance," he said, adding that he feels he can remain safe thanks to his experience.

"Now I know many things about safety. Also people keep praying for me," said Al Omiri.

My job is difficult, especially when we have to put out a big fire, but it is good at the same time. It was my good luck

Yaser Al Omiri

To avoid a disaster, he recommended that the people do not let their children play with matches or lighters and teach them to contact 9999 when an incident happens. Also people should not leave the AC on when no one is home and, whenever possible, should unplug electronic devices when they are not in use, he said. In the event of a small fire, they can use extinguisher themselves but if it is not safe, they should leave the home immediately and call the fire station, added Al Omiri.

Necessary steps
Asked what the citizens can do to help facilitate the task of firefighters, he said that drivers should not block the way of emergency vehicles.

Unfortunately, some only heed the police's warning and sometimes when the police is not there, the situation becomes difficult, he said. Also the people can help us reach the site more quickly if they give us the exact address, Al Omiri added.

He also complained about the fact that when a fire breaks out, people gather to watch it which could disrupt the operation.

"We need space to install or keep our equipment and the presence of people only makes the task more difficult for us," he said.

When asked whether there are female firefighters in Oman, they both smiled and said that it is a physically demanding job and may not suit them well.

To get in touch with the reporter elham@timesofoman.com

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know all the latest news