My Experience as the First Female Fire Commander in Kathmandu Fire Station

Sponsored Article by Suneeta Bhardwaj

Fire commander, Kathmandu Airport

I always wanted to do new things and I wanted to chase new challenges, since my childhood I wished to work on constraints. I wanted to be seen in the crowd, I always wanted to be heard. I had a willingness to serve people and this passion led me towards my destiny and that was becoming one of the first lady firefighters of Nepal.

I started working as a firefighter in Oct. 2003. Since then I have loved my job like this not only become my earning for a living but also it has quenched the burning fire of my deep passion. I am content to have chosen to serve, I still wonder how I entered this profession, there is one saying that everything happens for the best and this was the best thing that ever happened to me.

As we all know, fire services throughout the globe are predominantly been led by a male counterpart. It was thought that this job was only for strong men and women were thought to be weak and invading this stereotype, working in male-dominant infrastructure and fitting into the Man-sized gear was a tough job for female firefighters. We were two first lady firefighters working in the aviation sector that time for the first time. Similar way, our country, Nepal was also the first to introduce female fighters in South Asian countries too.

We both were strong ladies who not only have chosen their carrier in a very different sector other ladies do but also we were following our passion which made us happy every time we looked into so in no time we fit into the frame. People started giving examples of us that were making us more confident day by day.

And becoming a firefighter means a lifetime commitment to physical fitness, you always have to get involved in sports, regular activities that will develop your physical endurance and physical strength which will give the confidence in physically demanding situations. We were able to prove ourselves whenever or wherever we were told or instructed or tested to.

After 14 years of starting a job as a firefighter, now I am in the position of Fire commander. In the year 2020, I was deputed as first lady fire commander. It was not only a new responsibility for me but also a new challenge for me to work on a new pandemic scenario.

It was the beginning of the year 2020, the first case of COVID-19 seemed to be spreading throughout the world after it was first seen in Kunming, China.

It has always been fun, adventure, and learning at the same time when I work on operation duty, we were used to 6-hour shifts before the COVID pandemic but after the outbreak of COVID, we all know all the nonessential services were to be shutdown. The Fire services fit into the most essential services globally. We are the aviation firefighters, most of the airlines were cancelling their flights one after another at that time, and Country people were trying to get back to their own country as soon as possible so there was a necessity of rescue and relief flights though there was the tendency of reducing scheduled flights we were providing the same category IX facility of fire fighting at Kathmandu Airport. Since the COVID has seen in Nepal, the lockdown started, people were scared of the new thing that was growing up and spreading rapidly. People in the country seem to stay at home for their and everyone’s health safety issues.

While the world was unknown of the next step or challenge that was going to happen, fights were decreasing and some of the airlines had already cancelled their flights for upcoming months also so we also as the firefighters also held the meeting and came to the decision that what can be done next so that we remain on duty, provide the service with the same facility to the aircraft and to expose ourselves in minimum level with our family members. For this, we decided to work on 24 hours shift and 4 days off with the same manpower to minimize the exposure. But stepping from 6 hours shift to 24 hours shift was not an easy process. Some normal hurdles during our 24 hours shifts were that all the cafeteria at the airport were closed and firefighters themselves had to cook, all the public transportations were closed and firefighters had to provide relief to previous shifts on their own in the early morning at 6 till next morning.

Aviation management was using the minimum manpower in all possible departments but fire service was only the sector where manpower shall not be deducted in regards to the ICAO standards.

Regardless of every constraint, I was engaged in managing the mental and physical health status of co-workers who were working under my shift. We worked at the 24 hours shift and also developed the video that was promoting the safety guidelines regarding the ongoing pandemic.

According to my experience, it is very easy to work as a crew member and follow the instructions rather than working as a commander and give different instructions to various. Commander has respect and honour too. Being a commander is a tough job, you have to look after, manage and make the crew always motivated to work on a team. Fire fighting is always teamwork; one has to be very sensitive to everything that’s going on at his/her station.

A fire commander is someone who can lead by example, shares knowledge with everyone who works together, someone who supports the co-workers as this position is not based on the time on the job, he or she should be a good firefighter and a good mentor too who can have the ability to motivate his or her team. A fire commander is a person who wears his/her uniform proudly and represents that organization confidently relies on his/her ability. The firefighters and fire officers must trust the commander and this loyalty breeds trust in the organization which is good for teamwork and the organization itself.

The commander understands the code of ethics and lives on this ethics and exhibits integrity all the time and exemplifies the values of the department.

Now, after a year of working as a fire commander, I am more confident and more enthusiastic about the situation. I have adapted my senses and work ethics; I feel I am now more flexible and accountable. I can see how I have developed and I have naturally evolved and grown up so now I expect more of myself. It also encourages me as I have worked under the most extreme and harsh conditions of an ongoing pandemic. It will surely reflect on my development and I will continue to prepare a better version of myself on every new day.

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