Pulling people out alive was unforgettable, says Emirati paramedic sent to Turkey

The UAE's search and rescue team saved 24 people in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras

Ayesha Foolad, left, Hamda Al Hammadi and Dr Saad Al Ameri were part of the five-member team sent to Kahramanmaras in Turkey. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Three words have been etched forever in the minds of Hamda Al Hammadi, an advanced paramedic in Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services, and her rescue team that was sent to Turkey to search for survivors buried in the earthquake rubble.

“Help us, please.”

As part of Operation Gallant Knight 2, UAE's search and rescue team spent 16 days in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras after a catastrophic earthquake of 7.8 magnitude hit Turkey and Syria on February 6.

Ms Al Hammadi, who has 15 years of experience, told The National that pulling out someone alive was the hardest moment but a priceless one.

“I didn’t know whether to congratulate them for surviving or offer my condolences for losing a family member. It was very confusing,” Ms Al Hammadi said.

“I saw some people who were rescued and then they immediately tried to go and help others. Those were unforgettable moments.

“I received a call after the earthquake if I wanted to be part of the UAE rescue team heading to Turkey. I said yes and I was proud to be part of the team.”

Ms Al Hammadi and Ayesha Foolad were the only Emirati women officers in the five-member Dubai ambulance team who were sent to Kahramanmaras.

“They called us because we have the experience,” Ms Al Hammadi said.

Hamda Al Hammadi, an advanced paramedic from the UAE, carries a rescued Syrian child to safety. Photo: Wam

Pulling a Syrian family trapped under the rubble for 48 hours

For Ayesha Foolad, the worst but most rewarding moments were when the UAE rescue team worked for five hours to pull a Syrian family of four trapped under the rubble for 48 hours.

“The team found a mother, her son and two daughters under the debris of their house. We rushed to attend to the injured family and brought them to safety. I can’t forget that moment,” Ms Foolad said.

The family members were taken to a hospital in Turkey.

“It was a proud moment when I saw our rescue team work without rest for hours to pull out the family from the rubble.

"The Syrian mother asked me about my nationality and she praised our values when she knew I was from the UAE."

Ms Foolad said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, met the rescue team in Turkey and that motivated them to carry on with their duties.

“It was the best moment when I saw Sheikh Abdullah in Turkey. It gave us motivation and raised our spirits to finish our job,” Ms Foolad said.

The two officers said they received dozens of calls from their families every day.

“Our families were scared and called us as smaller earthquakes happened after the major one, but we promised them to finish our task and return safely," she said.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, shakes hands with Ayesha Foolad, a member of the UAE's search and rescue mission team that was sent to Turkey. Wam

Treating the injured

Dr Saad Al Ameri was the emergency doctor in the team. He said their team was the first medical team to arrive in Turkey and the last one to leave.

“We were there for about 16 days. We rescued and treated children, individuals and families. I was happy when the officials picked me to be part of the operation. It was a great honour for all of us,” Dr Al Ameri told The National.

“We treated people suffering from diseases such as the flu.”

Dr Al Ameri said they accompanied the UAE search and rescue team and ensured they were safe during missions.

“We went with them in our ambulance and we worked around the clock,” he said.

“I can’t forget the faces of the children. Some were injured and others just talked to us."

He said the biggest challenge was medicines freezing in the cold weather.

Mishal Julfar, chief executive of Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services, said his team in Turkey saved 24 people in Kahramanmaras city.

“The Emirati team of five members provided treatment on the spot and transported the survivors to the Turkish ambulance to take them to hospitals,” Mr Julfar said.

"We called them to check if they are exhausted or wanted to be replaced after a couple of days but they insisted to stay on to help more people. They were heroes."

Updated: March 20, 2023, 9:17 AM