SHOWING their grit in the midst of intense heat, firefighters and volunteers of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) 7 have shown that their passion can burn brighter than the fires they have faced.
For Fire Officer 1 Charisma Rengquijo, fire scenes were a familiar sight because she once served as a social worker under the Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWS) of Cebu City before she became a firefighter.
“I was once a social worker who took care of those residents affected by fires in the city but being a firefighter put me on a more challenging path than that,” Rengquijo told SunStar Cebu. Her training lasted for six months and 22 days in the National Fire Training Institute in Camp Vicente Lim, Calamba, Laguna.
Up before daybreak
“I was tested emotionally, physically and financially. Because I was the breadwinner of our family, most of my funds went to them while the rest paid for the equipment during our training,” she said.
Rengquijo said that the institute tested them for academic aptitude and skills.
“We woke up at 3:30 a.m. every day and we always rushed to take a bath because of the scarcity of water during our time. We also endured scorching heat during the day for our physical exercise and at night, we studied,” she said.
Training was rigid, meant to build her stamina and endurance for the fires ahead.
Rengquijo said that it helped her during the investigation on the huge fire that hit Metro Ayala Department Store and Supermarket last Jan. 5.
“I was part of the investigation team who went inside on the third day that the fire was declared out. The floor was still hot and the smell of burnt plastics and other materials was overpowering our senses,” she narrated. She was tasked to take photographic evidence of the damage inside the mall.
Rengquijo forms part of the Public Information Office staff of the BFP 7 and often covers fire alarms in Cebu City and neighboring towns.
“I sometimes handle our official BFP-7 PIO page in Facebook and I would come across comments that were hurtful to us firefighters. But we try to understand them and we try to change the public’s perception of us. That we are more than that,” she said.
But there were more supporters than bashers and Rengquijo said she was thankful for that. “During the Sinulog, we overheard people who recognized our efforts, especially when we responded to the Metro Ayala fire, and it boosted our morale,” she said.
The BFP-7 joined the Sinulog float competition as thanksgiving to the Señor Sto. Niño for His protection over them. Someday, Rengquijo hopes she can conduct stress debriefing for fellow firefighters and rescuers, a skill she acquired when she was still a social worker.
“Firefighting is not simply just using water to put out the flames but we also analyze how we can hit it directly as soon as possible. It varies in every situation. Every fire alarm and rescue operation is unique, that’s why we sometimes need stress debriefing,” she said.
For January this year, five fires hit Cebu City, which the Cebu City Fire Volunteers (CCFV) helped fight.
Vhanrold Monteron, 23, said that it’s common for them to sustain wounds in firefighting efforts and rescue operations.
“We experienced that our hands got wounded. Sometimes, we would slip on top of the roofs of houses because we need to get higher for us to combat the flames,” Monteron said.
Monteron started as a volunteer in Barangay Sta. Cruz in 2012 before he entered CCFV in 2013.
“All of us in CCFV don’t have salaries or allowance. It’s volunteer work because for us. Saving the lives of the people affected by fire is more important,” he said. He said that he and his fellow fire volunteers would always respond to fire alarms even if they happen to be out with their families of friends.
“Kanang mang laag mi uban ang pamilya or barkada basta naay alarma, mabiyaan gud na naku sila kay unahon man jud nako ang pag respondi sa sunog kaysa laag. Basta naa lang ko sa duol niya naa’y alarma, dagan gud dayun ko (Sometimes, I end up leaving gatherings with family or friends, just to answer an alarm. For as long as it’s within reach, I always rush to the scene of a fire),” he said.
Monteron uses a radio to monitor emergencies.
“Pirmi gud ni nako bitbiton ang ako radio. Mas mabiyaan pang uyab siguro kaysa radio (I always bring the radio with me. I’m more likely to leave my girlfriend behind sometimes than this radio),” he joked.
With the recent fires, firefighters and volunteers alike held on to their determination for public service, and kept criticisms and doubts at bay by staying positive.