Padang Fire Department and Early Search and Rescue Operations

October 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Social Science Observations

In the hours immediately following the earthquake, the Padang City Fire Department was the primary agency responsible for first response operations.  The Fire Department had practiced a preparedness drill in February, 2009 that improved performance in the 9/30 and 10/1 earthquakes. The training for preparedness included all city agencies and proved quite effective.  The City of Padang now has a new form of preparedness planning under the BPPD (City Planning Department). The Fire Department is the lead agency for emergency response operations under this plan. The principal officers use “handy-talkies” (radio devices) for communications within the department and among city personnel. Immediately after the earthquake, the principal government officers met at the radio station to establish the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and then moved the EOC to the Mayor’s residence.

 Within five to ten minutes after the earthquake, 36 fire spots broke out in different areas of the city. The Padang Fire Department has one official station for a city of 900,000 residents, with 9 fire trucks and 36 trained personnel.  Further, one of the 9 trucks was damaged, as the roof of the garage at the fire station collapsed on the truck, rendering it unusable and leaving only 8 trucks for immediate service.  Given the rapid spread of the fire and no ladder trucks, the Department had to prioritize its operations.  The department responded to fires in residential areas first, given its priority for life safety.  They let fires in the commercial areas burn. After 48 hours, fire departments from neighboring municipalities in West Sumatra arrived to assist the Padang City crews, according to the previously established regional emergency plan.

 Fire personnel are also trained in urban search and rescue (USAR) techniques, and organized a team to rescue a woman who was pinned under debris.  External assistance came first from the TNI, at 3:00 a.m. on 10/1. At 6:00 a.m. on 10/1, the BNPD team came from Jakarta. Fire personnel were assisted in USAR operations by paramedics from the Indonesian Red Cross.

 Response to fires was hindered by debris from collapsed buildings in the streets.  The trucks had to take whatever routes were open.  During the first 48 hours, only Fire Department, Red Cross, and TNI personnel were engaged in response operations.  According to standard operating procedures, the Police should open the roads, but in this event, they were not available.  Coordination among agencies was provided primarily by instructions from the mayor.

 International Search and Rescue teams arrived on the second and third days.  The first team arrived from Australia, followed by teams from Switzerland, Japan, Korea, 21 international teams total. The teams arrived too late to provide much assistance. 

 Communications to support search and rescue operations primarily relied on “handi-talkies” within the Fire Department and cell phones with other agencies.  One cell phone network, ‘Flexi,” was operational. Fire stations, mosques, and the radio station have back-up generators, so they were able to communicate via radio, and the mayor was able to broadcast messages to the people via radio.

 In the immediate hours after the earthquake, gasoline was not available. The price increased by 350% at the stations.  The media exaggerated the inflation in the price of gasoline, but it was substantial. Fire personnel recommend a review of the current evacuation plan that would include the use of ‘smart’ signboards that could tell people where to go and update the situation reports in a rapidly changing disaster environment.


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