Sun, 26 Jan 2003

Boredom, firefighters' number one enemy

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

For veteran firefighter Suchali M Ali, as for any other, the worst enemy is boredom.

The understaffed Jakarta Fire Department can only allocate 3 officers to 4 officers to man each of its 149 fire engines. They work a long and tiring 24-hour shift. Thus, boredom is part of their daily routine.

"We kill boredom by polishing the engines, repeatedly I must say, and also by playing cards until we hate all the aces, or find other games or jokes to make things more bearable," he said.

They could hit the sack, of course, but ever since a past Jakarta governor harshly accused the city's firefighters of being a bunch of fellows with nothing better to do than take a nap, Suchali and his fellow officers have set out to prove how blatantly wrong and misinformed the governor was.

"Sometimes, when things were very boring, an evil thought would across our mind. 'Why isn't there a fire today?' is the most common evil thought we indulge in," he said.

Suchali, who is 54 years old, has been with the City Fire Department for 34 years.

Having fought numerous front-line fires, nothing gave Suchali a stronger sense of satisfaction than gripping the metal head of a fire hose, sending a powerful jet of water into a blazing fire and watching it die down.

"And, nothing could grieve me more than watching a fellow firefighter being killed in the line of duty," he said.

Suchali remembered vividly how his friend, Danu, was killed after being trapped on the sixth floor of an inferno at the Harco building in Glodok a few years ago.

"He threw out his radio, then his hat and later his jacket in an effort to inform us of his exact location. We knew his location, but conditions hampered us from carrying out a rescue operation. All we could do was look into that particular spot on the sixth floor, where his hand waving good-bye could clearly be seen, with broken hearts and saddened spirits," he recalled.

It was an unrewarding job from a material point of view, according to Suchali, the father of five girls, due to retire next year with nothing more than a standard civil servant's pension and a small house in his native village in Serang, Banten province.

"But knowing that I have helped people has sustained me through all the difficult years, and spared me from firefighters' two most common diseases: high blood pressure -- due to disappointment with their lives -- and rheumatism -- due to our regular nocturnal communion with cold water," Suchali said, half-jokingly.