By Teresita Usapdin in the Philippines
Candelaria, Zambales - Under the scorching heat of the summer sun on the deep blue water of Luzon Sea , 18 Red Cross volunteers maneuvered their reflector zed rubber boats adeptly as they took turns jumping into the water, in a search and rescue training exercise to save people from drowning. Two of the rescued were unconscious and were immediately given cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Minutes after, everyone was relieved when the victims whimpered and slowly opened their eyes.
The rescue scenario was the highlight of the five-day water search and rescue (WASAR) training given by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to staff and volunteers in preparation for disasters, especially with the approaching typhoon season.
“It’s amazing. I couldn’t believe I did it,” declares 31 year-old Rina Alconaba, still gasping for breath as she jumped off the boat stretching her arms for a group hug. “I feel great.”
Rina, the lone female participant who has been with the Eastern Samar Red Cross chapter for more than three years, first as volunteer before she became staff, said this was her first time to run a boat and rescue a ‘drowning victim’ in an open sea. “I was scared at first, but with the encouragement of my team mates, I did it,” she says with a smile.
28-year-old Jonathan Regondola was also excited to undergo the training.
A volunteer of Albay Red Cross chapter for the past 11 years, Jonathan has become an expert on life-saving, mostly as a result of vehicular accidents. “Running a rubber boat and rescuing a drowning victim is totally different, all your senses have to work in water search and rescue. You have to be in full control of the situation,” he says. “It requires complete discipline.”
“Indeed, it does,” confirms their instructor Leo Ibajo, PRC head of the emergency response unit. “Discipline, skills, courage and compassion are the foremost qualifications of water search and rescue responders,” he explains. “Without these, you cannot save life in the water.”
PRC has further intensified its water search and rescue training in the aftermath of two super typhoons, Parma and Ketsana, in October 2009 which triggered massive floods and caused immense damage in the region. With the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) the PRC has trained a total of 28 WASAR squads with six members per squad who are ready to be deployed at any time to disaster-stricken areas.
WASAR squads include the Red Cross emergency response units. “They are the frontliners who can take the risks and hazards of major disasters and remain unscathed,” says Leo with confidence.
WASAR provides training from personal safety and survival, basic life saving, to rubber boat assembly and engine operation as well as navigation and maneuver rules.
“I am proud to be part of this training which teaches a lot of life-saving skills,” says 34-year old Jorland Tumacay, a family man with three children who has been a volunteer with the Zambales Red Cross chapter for the past six years. As a registered nurse and dialysis technician, Jorland is happy that with his WASAR training, he can now be a more effective disaster responder in his coastal community in Botolan town which is often hit by floods.
Red Cross Chairman Richard J. Gordon is a staunch advocate of disaster preparedness and co-authored the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Law when he was still a senator. He said there was a real need to have more fully trained volunteers in every village (barangay) in the country. With a disaster prone country like the Philippines that is plagued by a disasters such as landslides, earthquake and cyclones every year, the need to empower every adult citizen with life-saving skills is urgent.
Gordon is the proponent of ‘143 Red Cross’ a flagship volunteer programme of the Red Cross aimed at recruiting and training 44 volunteers in every barangay – one leader and 43 as members, to serve as responders on the ground when disaster strikes. With a total of 42,000 barangays in the country, this ambitious project would lead to 1.8 million volunteer disaster responders.