10 May 2010

Our men among the best, says fire chief


By Kristina George

PUTRAJAYA: After devoting 26 years of his life to saving lives, Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Hamzah Abu Bakar will miss the adventures of a firefighter when he retires in October.

"Over the past 26 years, I have watched the department grow from what I would call a shambles, into the now high-tech, highly developed buildings we now see in our communities.

"Back then, we not only had to make do with the most basic facilities offered to us, but we also had to deal with a lack of exposure and training as we were solely dependent on the local authorities and state government allocations."

He said, currently, the government spent billions of ringgit to ensure the department was kept up to date with the latest technology and state of the art facilities to provide better services.

Under the Eighth Malaysia Plan, the government set aside RM1.2 billion and later increased the allocation to RM1.4 billion under the Ninth Malaysia Plan once they realised the importance of further developing the department in the early nineties, he said.

He was speaking to reporters during a special interview in conjunction with the 35th National Firefighters Day celebrations held in Malacca yesterday.

"In a span of 35 years, we definitely have come a long way."

He said the department had already managed to achieve more than 96 per cent of its targeted key performance index, especially with regard to the rescue team's response time to emergency calls.

Hamzah said that there were three categories for each team to respond to an emergency call.

Category A comprises of calls made within the vicinity of the department or within the city which would entail firefighters reaching the emergency scene within 10 minutes of receiving the call, while category B comprises calls made from the borders of the towns that would entail firefighters responding to the call within 20 minutes.

He said in the case of category C, however, no specific response time could be set as calls made under this category were usually in the interior and remote areas that were not easily accessible.

"Take, for instance, a fire breaks out in the interiors of Sabah and Sarawak where road connections are not easily accessible. There is no way of telling how long it would take for our teams to reach the emergency site."

Hamzah said apart from the emergency response time, the department had also managed to meet the international standards on the ratio of firefighters per population.

"The set standards are one firefighter to every 2,000 people in a population and we have achieved this with over 253 stations built within the communities nationwide."

He urged graduates with a minimum of a diploma to join the department, as there was a need for more specialists.

The department currently has five academies in Wakaf Tapai, Kuala Kubu Baru, Ipoh, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

"Next month, the department will also beef up its air wing unit with the newly acquired Agusta AW139 and will see eight rotorcraft, including four existing Mi17 and two Agusta 109.

"We have 13 pilots at the moment but there is a need for more.

"A Reader's Digest survey said that we are one of the top five most trusted professions in Malaysia. Our jobs are no longer about simply putting out fires anymore.

"We also provide a complete career path in various other fields especially the science-related fields."

Yesterday's Firefighters Day celebrations saw more than 13,000 firefighters gathering at the Dataran Pahlawan Malacca to commemorate the firemen who died on duty and recognise those who have contributed significantly to the department.

"This line of duty is one that requires a huge deal of nobility as we have pledged to put other lives ahead of ours in line with our department's motto: Prepared to Save."

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