Malaysiakini News

Fighting fires and conventions, and loving it

Humans of Kuala Lumpur  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Firefighting is conventionally seen as a masculine profession but it is not.

This year's International Women’s Day focuses on creating a more equal working environment where women are celebrated and paid equally as their male counterparts.

Achieving this requires dispelling the perception that men are more suited for certain jobs by highlighting women’s experiences in professions like firefighting.

In 2016, there were 520 female firefighters nationwide out of a 15,000-strong force, reports AsiaOne and The Star.

To be a firefighter, women need to measure above 1.53 metres in height, weigh a minimum of 46kg, have 6/9 vision and pass a number of physical tests including carrying heavy loads and climbing rope.

Female trainees undergo the same six-month training regimen as male trainees and all have to maintain a high level of fitness throughout their career. They are expected to carry out the same duties as their male colleagues.

Two female firefighters speak to Humans of Kuala Lumpur about their most challenging experiences.

(Firefighter on the right)

“It was during Ramadan, so we were fasting and didn’t have the usual stamina to fight the fire. But we had to summon all our energy as people were crying and telling us how their books were gone, their homes, how the victims were wondering what’ll they do for the upcoming Raya.”

“We have to stay strong, because these people just lost everything in the blink of an eye. Yes we are firefighters, but we are also women.”

"It was also a squatter settlement and those structures can be fire hazards and the cramped illegally constructed buildings allow the fire to spread quickly”.

“Also, we undergo the same specialised training as men. We even wear the same uniform, so it's a bit of a problem. The equipment comes from the United States, so it's all big. The coat, the boots...and I remember falling down once!"

(Firefighter on the left)

“It was a six-hour fight with a fire in a clubhouse, where everything was closed, no doors, so the condition is right for the fire to spread easily because there’s no air going inside.

“So we were trying to figure out how can we find a way to bring in some air to help kill the fire.

"In the end, we had to force open the roof using the TTL (the big fire truck with the crane-like ladder extension) and used the chainsaw to open up the roof. We didn’t eat, drink, and was just at it for six hours starting from 6am till 1pm.

“It started from the kitchen when they were boiling water and then it exploded. Someone probably forgot they left it there, and it was just small fire. but because there was no big gusts of wind or air, it became bigger and bigger. Thank God there weren’t many people in it.

"Being a firefighter is very adventurous, and there many challenges. We were afraid at first but after training, it becomes automatic and we aren’t afraid anymore.”

This story was first published on the HUMANS OF KUALA LUMPUR Facebook page. In this photography project, Mushamir Mustafa takes pictures of random people in Kuala Lumpur, who tell him a story from their lives. It features on Malaysiakini every weekend.

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