Friday, April 26

Dial 999


Supt Law Poh Kiong (right) with Balai Lopeng control room operator, Affendi Seruji.

HAVE you ever wondered who to call during an emergency?

It would be a great help to have family and friends around in times of calamities such as automobile accidents, fire outbreaks, health problems and/or natural disasters.

However, if help is not close at hand, it’s important  to remember that all is not lost as there is still a line open to send an SOS — dial triple nine (999).

Zone 6 Fire and Rescue Station chief, Supt Law Poh Kiong said while awareness of safety and emergency response had gradually increased with education, there were still many who did not know who to contact during emergencies.

“Currently, 999 is used nationwide as the single line emergency number — in case you forgot the contact of your local police or fire station.

“It functions as a call centre, managed by Telekom 24/7. On receiving the call, the operator will divert the caller to the relevant Department — Fire and Rescue — at the same time, getting information from the caller to confirm the location, the type of

accident and the caller’s contact.

“For instance, if the incident happened in Miri, the operator would divert the report to Bomba’s Operation Movement Centre (Pusat Gerakan Operasi Sarawak — PGO), and the time to dispatch a response team is about one minute.

“As long as you contact 999 call centre, they will relay the call swiftly after getting the relevant information. Sometimes, they will contact the caller again if they need more information,” he explained.


112 not on 24/7

On public complaints regarding the 112 emergency number, Law reiterated that 112, although having a role similiar to 999,  was specifically for mobile phone users and managed by a telco agent.

“The downside is that 112 doesn’t run 24/7. If you encountered a non-responsive call to this number, it wouldn’t be the operator’s fault. So, all things considered, 999 is the most direct and effective responsive emergency number you can use at all times.”

Why post online when you can just call?

Law said he was concerned to see more and more people choosing to post accidents they encountered on Facebook or other social media platforms instead of asking for help from the relevant authorities.

“While many are getting better at using the emergency line, there are still those who don’t know what to do. They would post accident photos or videos on social media. So we (Bomba) have our own team in the control room to monitor postings and if we come across one and are able to detect the location, we will definitely dispatch our response team to check it out.”

Fire and Rescue vehicle on emergency standby.

Law who is also an active Facebook user, said he had personally dealt with several cases, requiring him to respond swiftly to online postings.

“Living in a modern world with technological gadgets being heavily used in our dialy lives, we cannot simply ignore these postings. What concerns us the most is delay, especially when there are casualties. Those who post photos or videos of accidents on Facebook need to understand this can cause delay in saving the injured person. It’s still better to contact 999 directly.”

He revealed that, sometimes, he even received calls from elected representatives on accident reports relayed to them by the public.

“In such cases, the time in between is wasted and could result in further damage.”


Control operator, Affendi Seruji, showing a report from PGO Sarawak during a test call.

Prank calls

Although prank calls are now filtered out by the call centre, pranksters are still around and causing mischief.

Law said Balai Sibu received its first prank call this year in early Jan, and a police report had been lodged against the caller.

“Pranksters may not realise it but after their calls are picked up by operator, the numbers are already in the system. Even if they tried to do something funny without revealing their identities or contact numbers, the operator would eventually be able to detect them in the system.

According to Law, 999 became the single emergency line, starting 2010, after a series of prank calls had caused the authorities  a lot of nuisance.

Since then, other emergency numbers — 994 (Fire and Rescue) and 991 (Civil Defence Department  JPAM) — have been taken out.

Between the 80’s and 90s, about five to 10 prank calls were received dialy, especially around midnight, creating a lot of trouble as response teams had to be dispatched since all incoming calls were taken seriously.

As a result, the government decided to synchronise all emergency numbers to 999 to filter out hoaxes and save costs.

“Nowadays, crank calls have become less frequent — like once or twice a year (for Miri),” Law noted.

Based on Fire and Rescue Department statistics compiled from all its stations in Sarawak, 16 prank calls had been received in 2016 and 21 in 2017 but the number dropped to 16 in 2018.

For 2019, two prank calls have already been received in Sibu and Kuching even though it’s just one month into the new year.

Balai Bomba Sibu is reportedly the most targetted among all the fire stations.


A demonstration on handling fire by Fire and Rescue Balai Lopeng during the Bomba Run in 2017.


Public misconception

Law felt that more should be done to educate the public on the use of this free government service — calling 999 during emergencies.

“A lot of people might still think using the emergency contact will cost them money or they will get scolded by the operator. If it were genuinely an emergency, they had nothing to worry.”

Relating an incident, he said a man whose pregnant wife was having labour contractions, didn’t know where to look for help and so he called Bomba and the Fire Department immediately dispatched an ambulance to send the expectant mother to hospital.

On the Bomba Run event, Law said it was one of the most successful initiatives Balai Bomba Lopeng had ever taken.

The station held fire safety demonstrations during the event to raise public awareness of the dangers posed by fire and what are the things to do during an outbreak.

“It’s always good to know your emergency number, the nearest fire station and police station,” he advised.

Organising visits to the Fire and Rescue Station for young children is one way to teach them about fire safety.

Law said nowadays, kindergartens and primary schools organised visits to Bomba at least once a year, adding that this was a good way to teach the children about fire hazards and who to call during an emergency.



Law also stressed the importance of protecting fire hydrants from vandalism.

In Miri, he said, there were more than 4,000 fire hydrants about 500M apart from one another.

“Bomba services and maintains these emergency water connections once every six months to keep them in good working condition.

“But it’s very difficult to protect all of them. We seek public co-operation to report any acts vandalism or stealing of hydrant parts by calling 999 or contacting any Fire and Rescue station.”

According to Law, offenders will be punished by two Departments — LAKU for using fire hydrant water without permission and Bomba which will impose a fine on the guilty party.

Bomba has also received reports on uncut grass around fire hydrants and unpainted hydrants (from yellow to red).

Law said public initiative to act as eyes and ears of Bomba was highly appreciated.