“When we receive a rescue call, all we ask about is the fire site, neither caller identity nor nationality matters to us,” says Oussama Al Abouchi, sergeant at Al-Fayhaa Fire Brigade.
Al-Fayhaa Fire Brigade located in the northern town of Tripoli, is a place that sergeants Oussama Al Abouchi and Hassan Zoabi call home. A home in which they endured living conditions that seemed a world away from the comfort they deserve. “This place was uninhabitable. We had no electricity, no hot water, no basic commodities,” Hassan says.
They carried out their missions despite the hardships. “We used to finish our missions and go shower at home,” says Oussama. “There was a lack of and shortage in equipment, machines, staff, and trainings,” says Dima Homsi, Director of Urban Community Al-Fayhaa.
The lives of firefighters saw a dramatic change after the newly rehabilitated and equipped building
that is the result of a joint initiative ‘The Municipal Empowerment and Resilience Project’ by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). It is being implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (MoIM) and funded by the European Union (EU).
Walking through the recently revitalized building, “It’s like we moved from a primitive life to a civilized life,” Hassan says. “The rehabilitation started from scratch and covered all aspects such as electricity and sanitary. They even provided furniture and beds and they will be providing a sports hall,” Oussama says.
The transformation, however, doesn't end with walls and ceilings. New equipment was provided such as firefighting trucks, escape ladders, portable road safety barriers, fire extinguishers, protective jackets, trousers, hoods, and boots, in addition to a long list of firefighting and sports equipment. "Now, we can respond faster, cover more ground, and make decisions that can save lives,” Oussama says.
The rehabilitation hasn’t included physical enhancements only to the fire brigade but it extended to include hands-on trainings as well. Training sessions on firefighting techniques and life-saving procedures have become a cornerstone of the brigade's routine. Al Fayhaa Fire Brigade Firefighters have received specialized training in first aid by the Lebanese Red Cross and advanced firefighting techniques by the civil defense. They were also trained on mapping and inspection of buildings in four selected pilot areas to enhance at later stages public safety in the four cities members of the union. “Trainings we received largely benefitted us on the field. We are now better equipped to handle challenging scenarios during fire incidents and rescue operations.” “We learned new techniques and methods; some approaches we used to think were right, proved to be wrong,” Hassan and Oussama say respectively.
Notably, over 450,000 residents across the four cities of the Urban Community of Al-Fayhaa, including Tripoli, Al-Mina, Al-Beddawi, and Qalamoun benefit from the rehabilitated and equipped fire brigade building.
“Our mission is to save people's lives and properties; It remains unchanged, but our ability to fulfill it has evolved”, says Oussama.
Within the current unfolding crisis, UN Lebanon with generous support from the European Union is supporting local authorities in maintaining basic services under this project. However, the crisis has majorly affected all segments of society including firefighters. “We are grateful for the UN’s support, but we lack financial support and health benefits. Sometimes we cannot afford the cost of the trip to the brigade,” Hassan says.