EDITORIAL - First responders: Heroes in a calamity

The Philippine Star

George Agustin managed to post a message on Facebook Live, providing information that he and his colleagues were off to their usual work, which was to assist or rescue anyone who might have been trapped in the massive flooding in Barangay Camias in San Miguel Town as Super Typhoon Karding roared across Luzon.

All were members of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office of Bulacan: Agustin, of Iba O’Este in Calumpit; Troy Justin Agustin of Sta. Rita, Guiguinto; Marby Bartolome of Bulihan, Malolos City; Jerson Resurreccion of Catmon, Sta. Maria, and Narciso Calayag Jr.

The five were in a truck when the vehicle bogged down, prompting them to transfer to a boat to continue their mission. Along the way, however, a concrete wall collapsed and hit the boat, causing it to overturn and tossing the five into rampaging floodwaters. Their bodies were later found in a nearby village.

Assistance to the responders’ bereaved families as well as commendations from officials and various groups have since poured in for the rescuers, who have been described as “bayani ng kalamidad” or heroes of the calamity.

Beyond the aid and plaudits, however, the death of the five highlights the plight of first responders in a country that is regularly visited by typhoons, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, mudslides and other calamities. While rescue tools have been upgraded in most areas, there are still many first responders lacking basic equipment such as modern boats, life vests and protective helmets with lights for nighttime operations.

Both the national and local governments have been boosting the equipment for emergency response, but the tools often still fall short of what is needed. Super Typhoon Yolanda showed the acute inadequacy of the country’s emergency response capabilities. Fortunately, there was a massive outpouring of assistance from many countries, from the use of military aircraft for rescue, retrieval and airlift operations to the provision of food, medical care and temporary shelters.

The nation pays tribute to the five heroes of Bulacan who died in the line of duty. The best tribute, however, will be the implementation of measures that will promote the welfare of first responders.


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