Syria’s first responders- ‘Most dangerous job in the world’

August 20, 2016 | By | Reply More

Aug  20, – “We called out: ‘We are the Civil Defense, is anyone able to hear us?'” Fadlallah said of the rescue operation earlier this summer. “They were on the first floor, with four floors above them, but they were protected by the ceiling, which had collapsed at a slant.”

Most dangerous job in the worldIt took Mahmoud Fadlallah and the team of seven rescue workers 30 minutes to reach the middle-aged couple trapped beneath the rubble of their apartment building in the contested Syrian city of Aleppo. They had been notified a rocket had struck the building, and they had to wait for the debris to fall and the dust to settle.

It was routine work for the 3,000-strong Syrian Civil Defense, which mounts search-and-rescue operations under the unforgiving atmosphere of war in the shattered country’s opposition areas, and whose supporters have nominated its first responders for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.

Their rescuers were among those who pulled 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh and his family from the rubble of their apartment building Wednesday night. A photo of little Omran, sitting alone in an ambulance, confused and covered in debris and blood, has become the haunting image of the battle for Aleppo.

The group’s global following, which includes dozens of Syrian civil society groups operating in opposition areas as well as international organizations, says the Civil Defense rescuers — known as the White Helmets for their trademark headgear — is engaged in “the most dangerous job in the world.”

“People are dying, and we run toward death,” said Fadlallah, whose team was able to rescue the trapped couple in June and also pulled four corpses from the rubble, including one whose limbs had been blown off by the force of the blast. He has since lost two of his colleagues from that rescue mission.

Rescue workers are targeted with such regularity by government forces that they have come up with a name for the tactic: “double tap” attacks.

After an initial strike, government warplanes circle around and hit the target a second time, or lay siege to the area with overwhelming artillery fire.

It was in such circumstances that Fadlallah lost a teammate last week. Khaled Omran Harrah had earlier captured international media attention for his dramatic 2014 rescue of a 10-day-old infant trapped in rubble for 16 hours.

Harrah was on the job again last week, called along with Fadlallah and five other White Helmet rescuers to the scene of a blast. The men were working to extract a survivor from the rubble when they came under second attack.

“They must have seen us coming, and they started striking us with a tank, mortars, and airstrikes,” Fadlallah said.

The group cowered in a building that could not provide enough cover, and Harrah was killed. Five others, including Fadlallah sustained shrapnel wounds. They were stuck for two hours, and the man they came to rescue died.

The next day was a scheduled day off for Fadlallah. He returned to his duties for a standard 24-hour shift the day after that, his wounds still unhealed.

The White Helmets have lost 134 rescuers in the line of duty, says director Raed Saleh, while participating in rescues the group says saved 60,000 lives. The figures could not be independently verified.

Press journalist for HRO media – Khizer Hayat reports.

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Category: Arab uprising

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