Articles, Blog

Fighting Fires and Suicide Attackers (NATO in Afghanistan)


Firefighters fighting gas station fire
Kabul’s firefighters often face complications beyond containing and putting out a fire.
For example flooding caused by rain and poor drainage made this recent gas station fire
dramatically more dangerous, and the deep pooling of water created traffic jams through
which dozens of fire, police and army vehicles had to push through.
“Firefighters are doing a good job here. They got here in just 10 minutes from 2nd
Station.” The blaze was caused when fuel trucks attempted
to fill the gas station tanks but the tanks flooded with water, which caused fuel to spill
out, which in turn ignited. The Kabul Fire Department, which is part of
the Ministry of Interior, often handles such complications, as do fire and rescue teams
anywhere in the world: But less common is the responsibility of the
Kabul fire department to perform rescue operations during suicide attacks, such as earlier this
month and last September. We asked Chief Kazim to explain the certificates
in his office–many awarded for his team’s response to specific situations–but the most
noteworthy event he mentioned–a response to a suicide attack on the British Consul
last year–had no certificate on the wall. Instead there was a photo of one the policemen
in his department who died. “We were fighting the fire and one of our
policeman guards named Mohammad Yousef was shot in the stomach by the suicide attackers.
He was alive for 24 hours than he died. I was also injured.”
In city of 5 million there are only five fire stations and less than two hundred firefighters
in the Ministry of Interior’s fire brigade. “As the population of Kabul increases, we
think it is a necessity to increase the number of stations to 18 or 19.”
But the chief is grateful for having state of the art equipment, which was critical in
this case as they needed foam because the gasoline just floats on top of the water.
Part of the reason for the small staff is that there are other firefighters attached
to various military and police units around the city that share the burden for fire and
rescue response, although Chief Kazim’s fire brigade is the only one generally responsible
for the city at large. These various police and army firefighting
groups did respond jointly to the recent fire, and, despite the apparent chaos on the scene
as spilled fuel kept surfacing and igniting, they managed to quell it completely in two
hours. They did really good job, (Reporter: “Are
they getting better over time?”) “Yeah, if there was not present time, maybe
all the area would be fired.” “Without cooperation we couldn’t have done
our job successfully.” Chief Kazim said that his department responded
to 397 calls last year, and 18 last month, which seems pretty low for a city of 5 million.
One Kabul resident half-jokingly said that the reason why Afghans don’t have more fires
or major traffic accidents is because they don’t have property insurance and when a house
or car goes up in flames or gets destroyed they won’t be able to replace it.
Jeff Holden, in Kabul, for the NATOchannel.

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