A lesson on water survival from firefighters

Participants practise sea survival techniques with the help of trainers.

FIREFIGHTERS save lives but their heroism in battling infernos to rescue trapped victims is not always given the credit they deserve.

Personally, I think firefighters are more than just a band of individuals who fight fires for a living as they not only save people from burning buildings but also go beyond the call of duty to help in various search and rescue missions.

Firefighters are invariably called in to rescue people during natural disasters. Their help is also sought to save people from drowning, those who were trapped in high-rise buildings or in mangled vehicles after an accident, or who have gone missing while caving, trekking in the jungles or climbing a mountain, among other emergencies.

In fact, firefighters are frequently needed to rescue animals in distress like cats stuck on a roof or a tree, and remove those that could wreak havoc like snakes slithering into homes and hornets swarming close to people.

Participants try the huddling technique in open water.

Not everyone has the skill and courage for the task of saving lives and properties when disasters strike, and the selfless act of putting one’s life on the line to prevent such tragedies should definitely be appreciated and recognised.

The public only gets to see the surface of lifesaving rescues by firefighters on TV and other news media. But little do they know about the risks firefighters take and the sacrifices they make in the line of duty.

 

RTM presenter Mardhati Yahya dives with the help of an instructor.

Water confidence course

Recently, 14 reporters in Miri witnessed first hand some of the firefighters’ tasks at the two-day Water Confidence Course organised by Zone 6 of the Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) and Northern Sarawak Journalists Association (NSJA).

Wenty Hii

The reporters were taught survival skills, particularly water rescue techniques, considered important to prepare them for emergencies since the media often report from the frontline, which could expose them to potential danger.

Bomba Zone 6 chief Supt Law Poh Kiong pointed out that without such skills reporters are especially vulnerable when covering river- or sea-based operations.

“It’s important for them to learn these skills. Water rescue, for instance, has its own risks due to varying water conditions.

“Even firefighters are exposed to these risks. Saving a drowning person requires more than just the ability to swim. Knowing and understanding lifesaving techniques is equally important otherwise the rescuer may also drown during a rescue attempt,” he explained.

Course advisor and Bomba Lopeng Fire Station chief Terry Robson said drowning incidents can be prevented if people are aware of the dangers of water and have the basic knowledge of survival.

During the course, the reporters learned the theories of lifesaving techniques with the practical part conducted at Miri Public Swimming Pool, and out at sea, about 400 metres from the Marina Bay Jetty to build confidence in water survival, including the use of diving equipment.

 

Choa (fifth right) with some of the participants and a trainer at Marina Bay jetty before heading out to the sea.

Overcoming fear of water

Senior fire officer II Rorudy Umas said first and foremost, participants needed to overcome their fear of water and be confident in using lifejackets, adding that surviving in the sea for a long time is another important skill to have.

“The most important thing is to stay calm. Being panicky will not help as it can affect your judgement, causing you to lose the rhythm of breathing.

“If you’re not a strong swimmer, I strongly advise against trying to save someone because it takes a lot of strength and positioning ability to get someone else and yourself moving in the water.”

Rorudy said the group sea survival technique including huddling was also taught during the course.

“This technique lessens the loss of body heat and rescuers can also spot a group more easily than individuals.”

Organising chairperson Choa Yee Hui said the programme was aimed at exposing the participants to sea survival situations.

“No matter how good a swimmer one is, sea survival skill is something one must learn.”

Choa presents a certificate of appreciation to Law.

Choa, a diver herself, pointed out that the programme also served as a platform for the media to promote greater awareness of environmental conservation.

“Apart from imparting proper sea survival techniques and the importance of lifejackets, learning to love and care for the environment is also part of the objective,” she said, adding that the programme was also a starting point for the participants to venture into diving and see the wonders of marine life.

More confident

Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) presenter Wenty Hii said she was grateful and proud to have participated in the course as it taught her to be more confident in handling emergency water incidents.

“Though I can swim, it doesn’t mean I automatically have the confidence and skill of a lifeguard. I don’t know the proper way but joining this programme has taught me basic sea survival and how to save a drowning person,” she said.

Trainers check scuba equipment before a practice session.

Congratulating the participants for successfully completing the course, senior fire officer II Nasir Razali said Bomba always cooperates with the media in disseminating news of public interest, while the media has been there to cover calamities such as floods, landslides, forest fires, or the rescue of drowning victims.

“Thus, this course is beneficial to reporters as it teaches them to not only save others from drowning but also themselves from water-related incidents in the course of their work,” he added.

As for me, I was, at first, hesitant to join the course because I couldn’t swim and the thought of being submerged in the water put me off, but the trainers helped me – and my fellow reporters – through our nervousness and I was surprised how easy it actually was if one remained calm.

The course was not only useful to the media but also anyone who wants to learn basic sea survival and the importance of lifejackets because we never know when we might need them.

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