The Covid-19 pandemic caught everyone off guard. While we were at a loss on what to do at first, numerous unsung heroes have stood up to guard us during the unknown crisis. Among them are doctors, nurses, police, non-governmental organisation personnel, delivery persons, media workers, to name a few.

Meanwhile, the Fire and Rescue Department of Malaysia (JBPM), or commonly known as Bomba, has also played an important part in our daily lives, especially during emergencies.

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Not forgetting the other heroes that work behind the scenes, we also highlight property managers, security guards and cleaners, who stoically reported to work even during the movement control order (MCO) periods. (See pages 11 & 12 for story and video.)

While we wish to say a million thanks to these frontliners, we would also like to pay tribute to those who are willing to work beyond their limits and take risks to guard our property and safety at home.

Serve, without asking for return

Operating under the purview of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT), Bomba is more than just about fighting fires. They are the ones who people reach out for help in every kind of distress from building collapses to saving a kitten on the tree.

It’s true whenever one is in trouble and does not know who to turn to, Bomba will be the first that come to mind. JBPM operations director Datuk Nor Hisham Mohammad says Bomba is often called to attend to some small incidents that people do not know how to deal with.

“For instance, last month we received a distress call to catch a frog in a house. The residents did not know what to do about the frog that sneaked into the house. While some may say Malaysians are too pampered, this is also an achievement for Bomba as it showed that people trust us so much,” Nor Hisham tells

With experience in dealing with all sorts of situations, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Malaysia’s shores in January, followed by the emergency announcement of movement control order (MCO) to curb the spread of the virus, Bomba had to be prepared to deal with the unknown.

“Reacting fast to emergency situations is something that Bomba members have already gotten used to, but dealing with this unknown virus with little knowledge was the first.

“We did feel uncertain at the beginning, but the first thing is to protect our people. Hence, we used all the protective equipment we have and come up with 11 standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure our own safety,” he recalls.

“Undeniably, wearing face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) under the hot sun is very uncomfortable, especially during operations or conducting sanitisation works in public places. But we reminded our members repeatedly on the importance of complying with SOPs,” stresses Nor Hisham.

As at Sept 2, 2020, Bomba has completed 13,302 Covid-related operations including transportations of Patient Under Investigation (PUI) and Person Under Surveilance (PUS), public sanitisations, fire safety inspections at quarantine stations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations and virus-infected corpse handling.

On top of these additional tasks, they still have their usual operations to take care of. “To our relief, during MCO, the number of emergency calls were reduced as there were not many cars on the road, less drowning cases and so on. At one stage, we saw a 70% reduction in rescue operations and about 40% less forest fires, bush fires and dumpsite fire incidents,” Nor Hisham points out.

From March 18 until Aug 26, 2020, a total of 311 Bomba members have undergone tests for Covid-19, with five testing positive. Fortunately, all of them are now back to negative. Out of the five, none were infected due to on site works, thanks to the comprehensive protective measures undertaken.

Health risks

Nor Hisham adds that apart from the virus, two Bomba members fainted during HADR operations owing to long hours wearing PPE. “They were exhausted after waiting for hours for flights from Italy and India, as the flights were delayed several times,” he says.

For Alimaddia Bukri, a cold he caught after performing a HADR was his most worrying incident related to Covid-19. “I had a fever and I coughed, I had all the symptoms,” says the 37-year-old who joined Bomba about 10 years ago.

Alimaddia is now the senior fire superintendent II of the fire and rescue operation division at JBPM and leads Bomba’s elite Special Tactical Operation and Rescue team of Malaysia (STORM).

“I developed the symptoms after transporting people who came back from Wuhan, China. Fortunately, it was just normal cold,” he adds.

Even though Bomba members are already accustomed to ad hoc missions and emergency situations, the highly infectious virus still sparked health risk concerns.

“It would be a lie if we say we are not worried at all,” Alimaddia says, adding that in the earlier stage, many Bomba members chose not to go back home as they worried they might carry the infectious virus.

“For myself, for weeks I stayed at a hotel or at another fellow Bomba member’s place because I’m worried that I might spread the virus to my family. As we all know, some virus carriers might not show symptoms at all and could spread the virus without knowing it,” he adss.

Motivation to continue serving

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Bomba has encountered numerous tragedies being on the frontline of accidents and disasters. Nevertheless, the happiness of being able to save a life is something that keeps them moving forward and continue serving the people.

“No words could describe the feeling of being able to save lives,” Alimaddia enthuses.

“We never asked for anything in return. A simple ‘thank you’ already makes our day,” he says. 

Nor Hisham concurs that the spirit of Bomba is to serve and expect nothing in return.

“Instead of asking what the department or country could offer, we always stress that Bomba members should ask what we can contribute to the country.

“Even when dealing with the unknown Covid-19 pandemic, we do not ask why. This is [the spirit] I really respect, and I appreciate my men for doing this, not only during Covid-19, but also every other time,” he emphasises.

The willingness to serve also speeds up the overall process when dealing with crises. For instance, during the Covid-19 outbreak, it took Bomba just a few hours to set up the rules and SOPs to deal with an unknown situation.

“I am really touched to see everyone united and work closely. Tough decisions were made during the meeting after considering many aspects. I am proud of the way we handled the emergency,” says Nor Hisham.

This story first appeared in the e-Pub on Sept 11, 2020. You can access back issues here.

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