Former drug surrenderers are making themselves useful to the community as firefighters and as rescue volunteers for Kiangan town in Ifugao province, which embraced them back.

“We do not see their past as a hindrance to helping us save lives of our community members. In fact, we are very much grateful because these people dedicate their lives and spend most of their time doing community work,” Fire Supt. Allan Eballar, Ifugao fire marshal, said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Almost 70 drug surrenderers are members of the Kiangan fire brigade and have been receiving regular training from the municipal fire station and from the regional office of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).

Eballar said the Kiangan fire brigade calls itself the Kiangan Organization of Safety Advocates or “KOSA”.

With limited manpower, the role of the KOSA is as important to Kiangan town and to Ifugao.

“We only have eight personnel in Kiangan (fire station), so we are very much thankful that they are very willing to help us every time there is a fire incident,” he said.

Force multipliers aid the government in safeguarding civilians and ensuring the safety of people, the officer said.

The surrenderers serve without remuneration and give back to the government and the community that embraced them back, after undergoing community-based drug rehabilitation program jointly administered by the multi-sectoral group composed of the local government unit, church, civic organizations and law enforcement agencies.

“They do not have any honorarium or salary. For them, helping their community is already a self-fulfilling act,” he said.

Eballar said their dedication in doing volunteer work is their way of giving back the respect that the community has given them.

The municipality of Kiangan has a program to train those who have completed the drug rehabilitation program, equipping them with firefighting and rescue skills, he added.

“The volunteers have been receiving seminars and capacity enhancement training, including firefighting equipment from the regional office of the Bureau of Fire Protection to allow them to fully perform their duties as force multipliers of the bureau,” he said.

To show their prowess and skills in firefighting, 15 fire brigade volunteers from KOSA represented the Cordillera region in the recently concluded 5th National Fire Olympics (NFO) in Manila on March 13-14.

The Kiangan firefighters won the Cordillera regional fire Olympics, barangay category in 2018, making them eligible to represent the region.

“We were caught off guard. We had two weeks to prepare. We were not informed early that we will be representing the region, though we already represented (Cordillera before),” Annie Dumangeng of the Kiangan local disaster risk reduction and management (LDRRM) officer, said in an earlier interview.

She said they chose only 15 of their volunteers to represent the region while the others are preparing to compete in the provincial level on March 28.

The NFO, started in 2014, aims to assess and improve the capability of firefighters and to raise public awareness of fire prevention month.

Meanwhile, Fire Senior Supt. Maria Sofia Mendoza, BFP-Cordillera director, said that the BFP and other force multipliers in the whole region should continue the partnership for the security of the public and in the name of public service.

“Rest assured that we will do our best to provide capacity training and seminars to fully equip our volunteers from the different fire brigades in the whole region. We will also provide them rescue and firefighting equipment that they can utilize,” she said. (PNA)

By Pamela Mariz Geminiano