June 23, 2018


Allah Ditta — Edhi rescue worker
Allah Ditta — Edhi rescue worker

‘There is no choice but to remain calm’

Q: How do you become a rescue worker?

A: You learn on the job. We cannot invest in training because we are a charity and cannot afford it. The other problem is that people leave after a short while. So, when you first start going to emergency scenes, you are accompanied by a senior rescue worker and, over time, you learn what to do.

We do not require a medical licence because there is very little we can do in terms of treatment. Things are not as sophisticated here as you see in the movies. We try to get a patient to the hospital as quickly as possible. Other than that, we can only administer first aid; bandages maybe, but something bigger than that and we have to take the patient to the hospital.

We are taught by our seniors how to brace a broken bone for example, or how to lift a person if he has had a particularly nasty fall and how to basically transfer them to the hospital without causing more injuries.

Q: What does the job involve?

A: The most common situation is house fires in the winter because people forget to turn off their heaters. Also, when people’s houses collapse after heavy rains, suicide cases where police and family members call us, road accidents, earthquake relief and such.

Q: Was there ever a situation where you had to force yourself to remain calm?

A: That would be the bomb blast in Attock in which former provincial minister Shuja Khanzada was killed. The army had to be involved and six of our cars were dispatched to the site. The injured were lying outside; we managed to move them to the hospital, but it was hard to watch those who were trapped because we did not have the heavy machinery required to lift the debris.

There was also once a building in Taxila that fell into a nullah. We had to get the bodies out of the dirty water and that too was very difficult because we did not have the proper resources and equipment.

There is one incident that I can never forget. We had been called to an apartment in H-11 where we found five bodies that had been there for some time. Everyone who went in the team got sick. I have never seen anything like that. Sometimes, when other rescue workers cannot lift bodies, they will call us and we have to get the job done. There is no choice but to remain calm.

Q: How do you deal emotionally when people die in your care?

A: We cannot declare a person dead. You have to take them to a hospital. And we cannot tell family members that their loved ones have died either. Of course you get affected emotionally when you see someone die in your care. But you have to remain calm for the sake of their family.

When I first started, I would not eat for days if someone died in my care but you get used to it with time.

Q: What was the strangest situation you have ever come across?

A: Some people think this is all a joke. They call and tell us there has been an emergency and then laugh when we reach there. Sometimes, paramedics do not find anything or anyone at the site to which they have been called.

A few years ago, we got a call that a school bus had turned at Zero Point. We sent tickers to the media as well but when we got there, there was just a school bus at which children were throwing stones. The police had also received our message and rushed to the site. The media then reported that we had lied.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: When people call us and tell us they trust us even though there are so many other such organisations in the country. This job also gives you peace of mind. I love it when we get to a site and people sigh with relief to see an Edhi ambulance.

Q: Do you work during public holidays as well?

A: There are no off days. We miss everything that happens in our families. You cannot be there for funerals in your village or weddings. It leads to a lot of fights with the wife, but what can you do.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2018