By Khaled Al-Abdulhadi
KUWAIT: Firefighting is a profession that commands admiration from those outside of it, as firefighters consistently put their lives on the line to save lives and properties. They undergo daily equipment inspections, prepare for the most perilous situations and anxiously await the bell that signals the need to don their gear and confront potential death head-on. The indelible role of firefighters in extinguishing fires after Kuwait’s liberation and their heroics during the Sept 11 attacks in the US are etched in our collective memories.
Omar Al-Mutairi, a firefighter at Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), vividly recalls his initiation into this noble profession. “I embarked on my career by successfully passing the demanding entrance tests of the KOC Fire Department, and then underwent rigorous training to ensure my physical and mental readiness for handling emergency situations,” he said. “The daily routine at the fire station is ever-changing,” Al-Mutairi said about the nature of their work. “Some days involve training or equipment maintenance, while on others, we respond to emergencies.
The work demands physical exertion and psychological endurance.” Al-Mutairi emphasizes that, in preparation for emergency situations, all firefighters must be ready for the most perilous scenarios. “We stay prepared through continuous training and by ensuring our equipment is in optimal condition. We practice various scenarios to stay vigilant and ready for any situation that may arise.” Al-Mutairi proudly reminisces about his participation in a KOC team that excelled in an international firefighter challenge in 2014, which was part of the 12th Firefighter Day Festival in Germany.
“Our team participated in the international firefighter championship, and our performance was honorable. It was an incredible moment, and the sense of pride in representing my country was beyond words, especially when we were honored by the late Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, may Allah have mercy on his soul,” he recalled. However, as one might expect, this profession is not without its tragic moments. Al-Mutairi elucidates the harrowing experiences faced by oil firefighters.
“The most challenging moments occur when we encounter accidents resulting in loss of life. These moments serve as stark reminders of how dangerous and crucial our profession is in saving human lives.” Joshua Plaxen, a lawyer who has defended firefighters in court, wrote in 2022 about the physical and mental hazards firefighters are exposed to. “One of the most prevalent physical hazards faced by firefighters arises from scenarios created by fires. Firefighters are not only at risk of losing their lives and suffering severe burns but can also be seriously injured by flashovers or back drafts.
Additionally, firefighters are susceptible to smoke inhalation and the risk of dying due to collapsing structures,” he wrote. “In addition to the physical hazards,” he continued, “firefighters are also at risk of developing severe mental health conditions as a result of their line of work. The stress firefighters endure can lead to mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder.” Plaxen also highlighted the common diseases that firefighters are prone to, including chronic respiratory diseases, cancer, hepatitis B and C, as well as heart diseases.
“Medical News Today reports that approximately 45 percent of firefighter deaths on the job are attributed to cardiac events,” he wrote. Furthermore, a study published by Science Direct on occupational hazards in March found: “The studies provide data on mechanical, physical, chemical and psychosocial risks, workers’ perceptions, resilience, and epidemiological data. They detail information related to firefighters’ exposure to falls and slips, noise, and high concentrations of carbon monoxide. Moreover, the study delves into the relationship between burnout, cognitive and physical fatigue, and their adverse effects on health and performance.”