Fire and Rescue Department officer Mohd Azril Abdul Kadir with other firefighters in Shah Alam yesterday. Flags were flown half-mast in honour of the six firemen who died. (PIC BY SHAHIMAN SHARIP)

ANYONE who knows the Puchong, Sepang and Dengkil areas will know that there are many ponds and disused mining pools dotted throughout the area.

These pools and ponds were, in the past, the favourite haunts of anglers aiming to catch tilapia, haruan and the occasional toman.

These days, there aren’t as many fish in the water, thanks to environmental changes caused both by natural phenomena and human callousness. But they are still visited by people who want to get away for a spot of fishing, if only just to have a relaxing few hours, away from the hustle and bustle of the rat race, people who want to relieve the stress of modern life.

But these ponds and pools are dangerous places. There is no telling what lies beneath those murky, still waters which look so deceivingly devoid of danger. Falling in could be, quite literally, the death of you, as your foot could become snagged by some underwater obstruction.

And, if it is the rainy season, the dangers increase as the ground underneath your feet becomes soft and erosion plays its part. Water levels, too, are higher.

Ask any crime reporter and they will tell you; these things are deathtraps. Any pond, mining pool or waterway can be so. Crime reporters often have to write stories about anglers and those who go for swims who drown in such places. The Puchong area, in fact, was particularly notorious for this.

Over the past few days, one such incident has been featuring prominently in the papers. In this case, not only did the teenager who fell in drowned, but six Fire and Rescue Department water rescue unit personnel who were searching for him as well. In this particular case, the six would-be rescuers drowned at a weir at the mining pool in Puchong.

The department’s director-general, Mohammad Hamdan Wahid, had said the search and rescue (SAR) operation at that point had followed the necessary standard operating procedure (SOP) for a surface water rescue method, meaning the six were not in deep water and therefore did not require breathing apparatuses.

Hamdan, however, said the department would review SOP in light of the incident. And well they should.

There must be something inherently wrong with the SOP if six firemen, from the department’s water rescue unit no less, can drown not 10 minutes into joining the SAR operation.

There are, at the very least, some major flaws.

The six men were roped or chained together. In most cases, this probably seems like a good idea as, ostensibly, if one person fell, the five others would be strong enough to ensure he doesn’t go under and drown. But in this case, at a weir where water is flowing rapidly after a rainy spell, the undercurrents were strong enough to pull all six under. In such a case, in addition to being roped/chained together, the rational thought would be to have a cable attached to them, leading to a winch or even held by colleagues on the banks. Thus, if and when they get into trouble, they can be hauled back to the bank.

It is unclear whether this was so in this case. They weren’t seen to have been dragged back. If indeed a rope or cable was attached to them, then it would seem this rope or cable was not attached to a winch. If so, was it being held by a colleague or colleagues? Were there enough people on the bank to haul them back in?

The firemen were said to have been wearing life jackets. If so, it appears that the life jackets were not enough. Though the water was not deep, therefore the use of diving equipment was not required, perhaps the firemen should have been required to wear buoyancy compensators, otherwise known as buoyancy compensating devices (BCDs). The BCD is a piece of diving equipment, but in this case may have proved more effective than life jackets.

Another question is why there were no floodlights used in the operation, which at that point had already lasted for several hours, the sun having long gone down. Surely mere flashlights are not enough for such a mission.

These are some of the issues Hamdan and the department need to address, but they are likely not the only ones. For now, we can only mourn the loss of Mohd Fatah Hashim, Izatul Akma Wan Ibrahim, Mazlan Omarbaki, Yahya Ali, Adnan Othman and Muhammad Hifdzul Malik Shaari.

The writer has more than two decades of experience, much of which has been spent writing about crime and the military. A die-hard Red Devil, he can usually be found wearing a Manchester United jersey when outside of work

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