Down from the ledge
OUR firefighters have won awards for devising suicide prevention equipment, but their tool of choice is words.
They rush to the scenes with their air cushions, ropes and harnesses, but they also bring along food, drinks and cigarettes for the men and women deep in despair.
As far as possible, the firemen will first try to calm the suicidal person by chatting with them. The firemen offer their listening ears; they share food and drinks, and sit with the suicidal person for as long as it takes to persuade them to continue living.
“We have no formal training to handle such cases. So, we rely on our experiences and communication skills, says firefighter Ahmad Irwan Abdul Razak, adding it take between 10 six hours to coax victims and bring them to safety.
Ahmad and colleagues at the Hang Tuah Fire and Rescue Department in Lumpur know some of the most effec-tive words and subjects to use... they call them “ayat power” ( power lines).
“These key phrases revolve around their family members and parents, especially their mothers. For Muslims, we recite the azan ( call to prayers) to get them to think about God and their next step in life,” says the 32- year- old fireman.
But words alone are not always enough to prevent suicides.
Fireman Hamidi Azwad Ahmad, 25, says it’s not always possible to identify whether a person is determined to take the plunge or still uncertain about committing suicide.
“It’s hard to tell what’s going on in their minds. If a person seems in the right frame of mind, we talk them out of suicide.
“But when someone is armed and starts to threaten us, we turn to physical intervention. Hence, techniques and equipt are important in our rescue missions,” explained Hamidi, add-ing all actions taken by firefighters are in a calculated manner. Last year, the Kuala Lumpur partment got 28 calls to res-cue people on the brink of suicide. This year, there have been two calls to date. Despite their best efforts, last year the firemen could not stop two per
sons from killing them- selves. The Fire Department though continues to improve and improvise on their methods and equipment to reduce suicide casualties.
Whenever there’s a distress call, these firefighters are geared up with safety air cushioning ( to withstand impact from 10- storey- high buildings), ropes, harnesses and safety nets.
Over the years, the department has upgraded its techniques and come up with new equipment to assist in rescuing suicidal persons.
Last year, the Hang Tuah Fire and Rescue Department invented the “Einstein Rope Rescue” which won Best Innovation at the Fire and Rescue Department’s annual Innovation Project competition. The rope – comprising metal carabiner loops and a string of knots ( fisherman’s knot, figure eight knot and bowline knot) – is essential as it can withstand up to two tonnes of weight.
Stopping suicide attempts is a job that the firefighters know they have to do well. Of all the uniformed personnel, it is firefighters that the public seems to trust most.
Firefighter Mohd Izzat Ahmad, 37, observes that suicidal people tend to be calmer with the men in orange.
“They feel threatened when confronted by police officers. Their biggest
fear is being locked up in prison for attempted suicide. Often enough, these troubled individuals seem willing to talk to us about their problems. Luckily, we are mostly able to persuade them to not jump,” says Mohd Izzat, adding suicidal persons are often pushed to seek death as a way out of problems such as financial difficulties, relationship issues and depression.
A team of firefighters has to leave the station within 60 seconds of receiving the call of distress, and they must reach the scene in 10 minutes. “Every second counts and we need to be at the scene before tragedy strikes,” said Azizan.
After each rescue mission, a post- mortem is conducted to discuss the techniques employed.
“We analyse what we did and talk about how we can improve. Through these discussions, younger firefighters have the opportunity to learn how to deal with suicidal people,” Azizan explains.
Firefighter Mohd Izzat Ahmad showing how a potential suicide victim is rescued using the ‘ Einstein Rope Rescue’. — Photos: LOW LAY PHON/ The Star
heroes: KL’s Hang Tuah Fire and Rescue Department firefighters ( from left) Ahmad, Hamidi and Mohd Izzat have rescued potential suicides around the city.