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In 2014, when a land area of 300 hectares in Rupat Island, Bengkalis Regency in Indonesia’s Riau province was burning, 42-year-old Sulaiman was among those deployed to help suppress the forest fire.

Sulaiman is a member of the Fast Emergency Response Team (FERT) at PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), which is responsible for handling any forest fires that affect RAPP concession areas.

Although the fire in Rupat Island was not a part of RAPP’s concessions, Sulaiman and his team decided to join the fight, alongside other firefighters from local government agencies.

“For two weeks, we were there to help. We had to go deep into the forest to reach the source of the fire,” said Sulaiman.

There was no direct access to the fire source, so the team had to walk five kilometres to the site while lugging their firefighting equipment and water sources with them, he said. 

Due to this, Sulaiman and the rest of the team also had to stay in the forest with limited food throughout the two weeks, as it would be unfeasible for them to leave the forest in the midst of their firefighting efforts.

“There were various challenges in the field, but we finally succeeded (in overcoming the fire),” said Sulaiman.

Sulaiman shares that being a leader of a firefighting squad was something that had never crossed his mind when he was growing up.

Fire Emergency Response Team is checking the fire suppresion tool
Sulaiman and Fire Emergency Response Team

Sulaiman first began his career at RAPP 23 years ago where he worked in the company’s harvesting department for one year. Following that, he moved to the workshop department and stayed there for six years.

Then, a new department focusing on forest fire safety was formed. Sulaiman agreed to join the forest protection section of this new fire department at the RAPP estate.

 

Sulaiman faced almost no difficulty adapting to his new tasks, while undergoing firefighting training. Besides receiving technical training to extinguish fires, Sulaiman also received physical and metal training from the Indonesian Army Special Forces.

Soon, his combination of leadership abilities and field experience led him to be named Assistant Head of the Fire and Aviation Department. Currently, Sulaiman is in charge of the RAPP team’s fire operations – both at the head office and at the estate.

One of Sulaiman’s ongoing tasks is to develop standard operating procedures for his team to make sure that everything is carried out in compliance with regulations. He is also thus responsible for ensuring that this system will prevent the occurrence of fires.

“The key to being a fireman is discipline. That's what I always emphasize, particularly to those who have just joined,” he said.

Yuneldi, RAPP Fire and Aviation Manager, views Sulaiman as a fundamental figure in the FERT team, saying that Sulaiman is the epitome of good leadership.

 “He is always at the forefront when it comes to our firefighting efforts. You’ll see him out there in the front before conditions normalize,” said Yuneldi.

Sulaiman said that he feels immense pride being a firefighter, and that firefighting is a satisfying job that saves human lives as well as the environment.

As for the most challenging part of the job, Sulaiman said, it is having to be ready to be summoned at any time to extinguish a fire.

The FERT team also has to be prepared for the possibility of having to stay in tents in the forest for weeks while trying to control or put out a forest fire, Sulaiman added.

“We work in line with a principle of not going home until the fire is put out, ‘Pantang Pulang Sebalum Padam’,” Sulaiman said.

 
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