Q: What was the most dangerous rescue operation you have supervised?
A: The Ghakkar Plaza fire on Dec, 20 2008 was the most dangerous rescue operation I have seen during my time in service. We lost 13 firefighters from different organizations; it was the first time in our history that professional firefighters were killed in such large numbers.
The building had very few exits and the structure collapsed on itself. Two extra stories had been constructed in violation of building laws and there were no fire escapes. A large generator full of fuel was located on the premises and was supplying electricity to 500 shops. This alone kept the fire going for days.
I supervised the operation, which lasted 29 days until the last body was recovered.
Q: What should the people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi know about the rescue services?
A: Firstly, one should always call the right service for each emergency. The numbers should be clearly written in fluorescent paint in a central location in a building. For crime related emergencies dial 15, in case of a terrorist attack dial 1717 and for fire-related incidents or accidents, people should dial 1122.
Deeba Shahnaz joined the Rescue 1122 emergency services in 2006 and now oversees rescue trainings in the Rawalpindi district, commanding a force of about 400 people. Dawn spoke to Ms Shahnaz about the dangers of her job and asked her how ordinary people could contribute to the emergency services’ efforts.
Secondly, citizens can help by volunteering. Once a volunteer is enrolled, they go through special training and need to work a certain number of hours every week before they can formally begin work as a volunteer rescue worker.
Thirdly, both organisations and individuals can donate to 1122. The Community Training Centre was funded through donations. Two ambulances that cost around Rs3-4 million each, most district buildings, the mosque at 1122 Headquarters and some equipment has been donated by philanthropists.
Donations can be given in cash or kind and 1122 has a proper mechanism for accepting donations and maintains records of all donated monies and material. If people wish to donate in kind, we always require equipment such as fire extinguishers, shovels, crowbars and drill machines etc.
Q: What equipment are ambulances and rescue vehicles equipped with?
A: We have two trucks with long ladders meant for reaching the tops of high-rise buildings. One ladder is 65 feet long and the other is 105 feet long. The rescue vehicles also have cutters to slice through brick, plaster and even metal.
There are paramedics aboard every ambulance. They are trained at the Emergency Services Academy in Lahore and then work at a hospital for one month. The vehicles themselves are equipped with lifesaving equipment such as oxygen cylinders, cardiac monitors, suction machines for clearing air passages, basic first aid kits and medicine.
— Text by Shireen Gheba Najib
Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2015