My Ramadan: Abu Dhabi's fasting firefighters see their job as act of worship

Only the fittest can tackle fires in the searing summer heat - all while fasting daily

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As their station’s piercing alarm shatters the silence, a dozen Abu Dhabi firefighters leap into action.

Grabbing their protective suits, the team sprints to nearby vehicles knowing well that every second counts.

This is how firefighters of the Abu Dhabi Civil Defence force spend every 24-hour shift.

Whether they are fasting during Ramadan or not, the squad aims to leave the station within 60 seconds of the alarm sounding.

The love of rescuing people and property is a beautiful thing

“I’ve been in this job for 15 years and my first Ramadan was the most difficult,” said Faisal Abdullah, the firefighters’ team leader.

“As the years passed, I got used to it and I grew stronger than the fatigue.

“Our job remains the same regardless [of the holy month]. The love of rescuing people and property is a beautiful thing.”

Mr Abdullah and his men operate from their station in the Mushrif area of the city.

The experienced, 17-strong team work in seven-day shifts around the clock.

Under normal circumstances, the men all enjoy eating together when they are not responding to emergencies.

Abu Dhabi's firefighters reflect on Ramadan

Abu Dhabi's firefighters reflect on Ramadan

But this year, owing to coronavirus, sharing suhoor and iftar meals has become a little different, with the squad observing strict social distancing rules.

“We usually always sit guys together at the station to have suhoor and iftar,” said Mr Abdullah, 32.

“Now though, with the spread of coronavirus, we’re following safety precautions by wearing gloves and masks and keeping a social distance.

“We have also shifted our physical training to the night time to save our energy.

“So, during the day we do educational training on our equipment and tools.

“Of course, we are still on the alert [to respond to] any rescue report.”

Mr Abdullah, a father-of-three, described his first Ramadan as a firefighter.

He revealed how fasting, rising summer temperatures, and the inevitable stresses of the job could often prove an exhausting combination.

“The first accident I encountered during Ramadan while fasting was a car on fire,” he said.

“It was very hot and the very beginning of Ramadan so my body was not yet used to fasting.

“Thank God though, all the training we had undergone beforehand prepared our bodies for it.”

Hassan Al Housani also described working with the team over Ramadan as immensely challenging.

The 28-year-old father-of-two drives and operates one of the squad’s three engines.

"It's all about control and knowing how to operate the ladder," he told The National.

“It depends on the place and type of accident. Whether it is a suicide attempt or a rescue from a high-rise building.

“It is harder being a firefighter, however. When you are inside the fire you are facing the fire.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Haneen Dajani: An evening with a Civil Defence firefighting fasting team for My Ramadan. WeÕll be looking at how they are working under Covid-19 measures. Thursday, April 30th, 2020. Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Inside the station in Al Mushrif, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“The driver only drops the firefighters, operates the water and waits on standby.”

Mr Al Housani said he was looking forward to spending time with his family after finishing his one-week shift.

He said the men had all been screening for Covid-19 at least twice, meaning they had no qualms about returning to their loved-ones.

“We received text messages that we tested negative,” he said.

“Thank God for everything anyway, hopefully it [the pandemic] will pass soon.

“I usually sit with my family for iftar and then gather with my friends, but now we have to stay at home.”

The first accident I encountered during Ramadan was a car on fire. It was very hot so the body was not yet used to fasting. Thank God though, all the training we had undergone prepared our bodies for it

Sultan Al Hosani, 27, another member of the squad, said every firefighter was committed to saving lives.

He described the role as almost like a form of worship because each man was so dedicated to the task.

“Working in Ramadan is considered a bit difficult but thanks to our faith in Allah we overcome this,” he said.

“Yes, we miss our families during this time, but I like my job because I feel I am saving my brothers, sisters and national property.

“The incident that affected me the most was when I first joined the civil defence.

“There was a crash between two cars and there were around three injured people stuck inside.

“It took time to get them out. But after we managed, they all survived.”