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Indonesia’s Forest fires are a recurring problem. The annual dry season coupled with the use of slash and burn techniques to clear land cheaply can lead to fires spreading out of control.

Despite the reduced area of burned land in 2020 compared to 2015, fire and haze remains a serious national and international matter that needs to be tackled through a collaborative, multi stakeholder approach aimed at comprehensively addressing the root causes of why fires occur.

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

In APRIL, we advocate a multi-stakeholder approach to address fire prevention in Indonesia, focusing on prevention, detection and suppression.

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 as the forefront of combating potential fires in the vicinity of RAPP's operations and concessions.

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.

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.

In carrying out their roles, Sulaiman and his team are equipped with the latest technology to extinguish fires, such as high-powered fire pumps called Max 3s, which can extinguish fires of about two kilometers. The FERT is also equipped with transportation tools such as speedboats and helicopters.

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

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 year before joining forest protection section of the fire department at the RAPP estate

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.

“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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