The capital’s ‘unsung heroes’

After the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) helped the Capital Development Authority (CDA) set up its first emergency wing, the Emergency and Disaster Management Directorate.

Prior to this, there was only the CDA’s fire brigade. The directorate, which has now been transferred to the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad, consists of the fire brigade, an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team and a Fire Prevention and Audit Wing.

The CDA’s firefighters can be spotted at any fire that occurs within the capital, while USAR teams have not only worked on disasters in Islamabad but also in Chitral and Peshawar. USAR teams initially consisted of 80 trained personnel, but the number has been curtailed to almost 30.

AN MCI frogman stands next to the emergency boat used in times of flood.

The Fire Prevention and Audit Wing is also understaffed. “There are over 200 big commercial plazas in Islamabad, and most of them are not following building codes or fire safety guidelines. Many of them are even operating without completion certificates. The Fire Prevention and Audit Wing, which is supposed to deal with buildings, needs to be strengthened,” an official said.

Emergency and Disaster Management Director Shahbaz Tahir Nadeem said the directorate’s mandate is to “ensure the safety of all residents of Islamabad from any natural or human-made disaster”. He said the directorate’s response time within the limits of the federal capital is five to eight minutes.

Two trainers walk alongside sniffer dogs that are specially trained for search and rescue work.

On request from provincial authorities, their team can also reach them in the shortest possible time. Mr Nadeem said the directorate is equipped with trained firefighters, trained rescue teams, sophisticated equipment and 14 search and rescue dogs.

He added that the firefighters and rescue personnel work around the clock.

However, he said: “I do agree that there is need for improvement.”

A rescue official tests equipment used to look for signs of life under collapsed structures.

“There is always need for improvement, but our rescue teams are unsung heroes,” a member of a rescue team said. “They have performed their duties efficiently. They not only actively participate in rescue operations to save people’s lives, but they also free birds tangled in tree branches.”

Chief Fire Officer Zafar Iqbal said the fire brigade is equipped with 35 fire tenders and two snorkels. In addition to the headquarters, official said there are four other fire stations – in G-5, H-11, G-10 and I-9 – but there is no fire station that caters to the rural areas.

A firefighter said their work does need to be expanded to the rural areas. “Although we have carried out firefighting operations in all of Islamabad, there is a need for more fire stations for easy and fast access.”

Emergency and disaster management officials respond to emergency calls made by citizens. — Photos by Mohammad Asim

Back in 2009, the USAR had 17 specially trained Labrador Retrievers used in rescue operations during emergenices, but three of them have died. Little heed is paid to the breeding of dogs, which are looked after and trained by army dog trainers who have been deputed to the CDA and MCI at the authority’s dog centre in H-11.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2017

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