One step at a time

Written By : MELA TUILEVUKA. Unlike the police force and the military who hit our headlines everyday for the work they do, firefighters remain in the background only surfacing when
08 Aug 2008 12:00

Written By : MELA TUILEVUKA. Unlike the police force and the military who hit our headlines everyday for the work they do, firefighters remain in the background only surfacing when there is a fire or if someone or something needs rescuing.
Little do we know of the challenges they face in their field of work.
People tend to have a different view of firefighters because of many reasons known to them.
Some may hold a grudge because of the negative views portrayed in the media and others maybe because their family members, friends or relatives may have perished in a fire.
Some of us think that they just stick around in their fire stations and drink grog all day or snore the day away and that is it for them.
Well, I admit I am one of those people that had the same negative perspective but I was proven wrong after spending a day with them at Argo Street in Walu Bay.
My day started at 7am on Tuesday with breakfast with the crew from Blue Watch who were manning the station from 9pm the previous night.
Sub-Officer- In- Charge Iowane Kuruvakarua led his crew of nine men to devotion and breakfast after a hectic physical training and a short parade.
Even though I missed the training, I joined the crew for breakfast as they were about to hand over duties to the Red Watch crew who were expected to start at 9am.
It was just a simple Fijian breakfast consisting of tea and a piece of three-quarter loaf of bread with loads of butter, peanut butter and jam inside.
I thought I was back at boarding school but only this time with my male colleagues for a day.
It did not take me long to fit in with the crew as they were very inquisitive about what I was doing there and at the same time very friendly.
Just when I was getting used to the company of the Blue Watch crew, I could see new faces around the premises. I looked at my watch and I figured they were members of the Red Watch crew who were going to take over duties for the next 24 hours.
Meanwhile, members of the Blue Watch crew were already doing their fair share of cleaning up around the premises before the new team on duty takes over.
At 9am, there was another parade of all the members of both crews in full uniform as Sub-Officer Kuruvakarua handed over the reigns to his predecessor Sub-Officer Tabuanivalu.
At this time, incidents that happened during the last 24 hours or any pending problem encountered by the Blue Watch crew are relayed in detail to Tabuanivalu who takes it all on board.
It is then time for the Red Watch crew to check all fire equipment in the trucks and other necessary equipments.
Sub-Officer Tabuanivalu told me that it is always an important part of work everyday for his crew to check all fire equipment in the trucks.
“This is important for us because we never know if the previous crew that was on duty placed all the fire equipment in the right places as they may have used the trucks for fire calls and drills,” he said.
“And since we are on duty, it is now our responsibility to see that everything is in place.”
Once the checks are done, the crew on duty change into their blue overalls for a fire drill training.
Looking at the crew, I thought the training would be easy for them but it is not what it seemed.
I learnt the mouth of those large hose pipes they drag around during a fire weighs a tonne – it weighs 750 kilo pascals / area or in fireman’s terms 750 KPA.
I figured that is why one or two men are required to hold on to the hose during a fire because of its weight.
The first run of drill training had a few clichés so the Red Watch crew had to do the drill over again – this time to perfection.
After the drill training, the crew were given time out to rest and wait around for lunch. It was during this time that a fire call from Vatuwaqa arrived at the station at approximately 11:50am.
I was not around at this time as I could have had the chance to ride in one of those big red fire trucks.
When I got permission to spend a day as a firefighter, I was told that I was not allowed to ride in the trucks but that a fire rescue vehicle would be on stand-by with a driver to chauffeur me around in case of a fire call.
But, luckily for me, someone in authority granted me permission at the last minute to ride in the truck in case of a fire call.
Sub-Officer Tabuanivalu told me that no civilian has ever ridden on the truck and if I did, I would be the first one.
When the crew returned, I was back at the station greeting them with my camera. They asked me where I had been and I told them I had to go and download my pictures at the office.
“You missed your luck, you could have gone with us,” they said.
I realised I missed my luck, but than again the fire call was a false alarm. They drove all the way out to Vatuwaqa for nothing.
“This is what people do not realise, when they play tricks on us, we go out of our way to check,” Tabuanivalu said.
“We treat all fire calls seriously and no matter how small it may be, we still have to go out there and see.”
After the crew settled down, three of them headed straight for the kitchen to cook lunch.
Believe me, members of the crew have to fork out money from their own pockets to buy their breakfast, lunch and dinner.
They have what they call ‘put-in’ system whereby everyone gives their contribution and it is totally up to the three cooks for the day to please everyone.
Tabuanivalu said they get five dollars meal allowance and this goes towards their meals.
I was amazed at the cooking skills of these three men but than everything would depend on our taste buds.
Once the lunch was cooked, everyone was called in to enjoy a meal of stir-fry corned beef with vegetables and rice.
The meal was delicious and it was quite evident as there was no left-over on my plate and it was the same for the rest of the crew.
After lunch we had to wash our own eating utensils and rush up to the next programme which was a training briefing.
During the briefing, word came around that the crew had to go and try and salvage the vessel MV Tai-Kabara at the wharf.
I had my chance now to ride in the truck with my own set of crew Nacanieli Vitayaki, Jone Saqa and Iferemi Dobui.
We were told to get our equipment ready for the job ahead of us.
I was told that apart from attending to fire calls, the crew were also on stand by for other special services which come under their K55 code. These includes;
l filling water in a swimming pool.
l pet rescue.
l ship salvaging
l car accident rescue.
They attend to other services that fall under certain codes only known to them.
To the crew and all those at National Fire Authority, I take my hat off for the job they are doing.
I have come to understand what job requires of them and it takes a lot out of them as well and believe me, I wouldn’t be able to do the job they are doing everyday even if I was given a million dollars.
It takes a lot of sweat, courage and confidence but most importantly sacrifice from their families as they leave them at home to be on full alert at the station.
I have seen the comradeship and the unity within the crew and that means a lot in any workplace.
I thank the crew for their hospitality and my experience as a firefighter for a day is something I will always remember especially being the first civilian to ride in a fire truck.

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