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Stepping into fire

August 23 2012, 20:07

In the midst of the season of fires the dispatch center receives more than 8 calls a day. The rescuers told our reporter about the difficulties and happy moments of fire fighting service.

SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE

I hardly persuaded the officer to let me try a fire fighter’s workwear on, but when they gave me the smallest available one it turned too big for me. With overalls, gloves, a mask, a helmet, boots and a 10kg oxygen cylinder I felt myself Lady Steel, of course, a very slow and clumsy Lady Steel – I can’t imagine how can one run, climb, fight fire and save people in all these. Until claustrophobia totally caught me I showed them I was ready – the next moment a door opened and I stepped into a smoky, dark and stony silent room. The only thing I could hear was the dull sound of my breath in the mask. After two steps I stopped in indecision and a thought kicked my mind that I was alone in here. In the dark with my arms stretched ahead I walked to the left and to the right until I realized that my body compass completely switched off and now I am not aware where the exit is.
- Heeey!    
In response a palm appeared in the dark:
- I’m here.
- Where have you been?
- Behind you, said my saviour.
Now I understood why Senior Lieutenant of Fire Fighting Service Kalizhan KABDIYEV did not want to let me enter the smoke chamber. The awareness that it is just training did not save me from the fear of remaining there forever. Thinking that you’re absolutely alone there, is the worst feeling indeed. That’s why firefighters are tied to each other with a rope during operations – if a team member falls down, he will pull the others with him. So there is no other option for them – to save a friend or die. Another rescuer stays outside of the room – an entry control officer, who fixes everything and literally keeps his fingers on the pulse of a firefighter. Holding the rescuer’s hand in a death grip I walked further. It was much easier to walk with a thermal viewer, to which I soon got used to. Smoke chamber simulates a burning room and you can get into it through a maze. The room itself is decorated in a Hollywood horror film style – grey and white TV set, cupboard, bed and a dummy of a man lying in the corner. If accompanied with a grim laughter this view would drive anyone mad. To begin with we had to carry the ‘victim’ out. In the furthest corner we saw a barrel with dimming fire – it was the conditional fire source. The temperature sensor was showing above 50°C.  
-  How long may a person survive here without this equipment?
- Not a single minute. It is very difficult to find people in these conditions, especially children, who hide when they feel danger. A thermal viewer helps see a human even if he is under a bed.
Having seen how firefighters work, I now started regarding them with admiration.

IN THE DISPATCH ROOM

The work shift of a firefighter starts with crew change. As a person from the street, who is remote from firefighting, I wondered where the button that launches the alarm was. It is always ‘on duty’ in the dispatch room ‘under the rule’ of Anargoul BASSAROVA, a telephone operator. A woman in men’s team is like a rose among field chamomiles. But the reality is that this lady is not spoiled – she has to stay in her chair round the clock. She is only given 3hrs for sleep – a watch commander backs her up when she rests.
- A long honk is the alarm signal, she explains. – Three short ones is a call to line-up.
It didn’t take much to persuade her to show me how it works – after a triple honk all the guys stood in a straight line within few seconds.
- Sorry, guys, just a test, we confessed. But they wouldn’t get angry, but smiled – test alerts any time of the day are usual in their work.

SURVIVAL TEST

Another woman on duty during our visit was Almagoul KANATOVA, a doctor. Every morning she tests health condition of team members. Blood pressure first of all. Should anyone get ill he has to come to work anyway. In case pills or any other methods can’t revive a rescuer, he will be sent to the special departmental medical facility and replaced with an officer from a just rested shift. There are four shifts. Owing to this an officer works a day and rests three.
You may think what an easy schedule. But if a human runs for just a half an hour in full ammunition breathing smoke in, he will need a week to recover. They carry out physical efforts inordinate to usual people – long and short runs, push ups, climbing a tower within time limits. Consider doing all these in full clothing and hot weather.
– It is hard in training, but easy in battle, says Kalizhan in response to my request to allow a cigarette break to the guys. – They are used to hot weather and difficulties. As well as to physical efforts. They are rescuers. That’s it!

SAVE AND PROTECT

I asked the firefighters if they were superstitious. The answer was ‘no’. They turned to be serious people who do not fear black cats or women with empty buckets – that’s not manly, they commented. When in a burning room they never think of money, but of saving people. When leaving, I asked one of the officers why he is doing such a dangerous job.
- When I die, on the Heaven they will ask me what I did in my life. My answer will be the dozens of saved lives and hundreds of houses, kittens and dogs and a parrot, he replied. 

By Anastasia PASTUKHOVA

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