Rescue team is ready for action 24/7

Unit faces constant struggle to reduce death toll on Dubai roads. Police vans have been modified to hold the necessary tools.

Capt Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed al Hamadi of Dubai Police rescue has had some of the team's vans modified with ladders and platforms to make it easier to rescue people from lorry crashes.
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DUBAI // When the back of the van is opened an array of chunky, shiny hardware appears on a tray that would put any man's toolbox to shame. "They are very expensive but you can't put a price on a life," says Capt Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed al Hamadi as he shows off Dubai Police Rescue's life-saving equipment.

The rescue team is undergoing training in dealing with major accidents but it already has an impressive capability. Their vans, four-wheel drives and lorries are constantly on Dubai's roads, attending every type of incident, from breaking into a car to retrieve keys inadvertently locked inside, to the 200-car pile-up in March. "We are even called out when somebody locks their keys in the car or cars get stuck in the desert. Dubai Police Rescue is a free service and we are here to help," says Major Ahmed Burqibah, who is in charge of 500 men in the rescue division.

"I am very proud of them. They work hard and train just as rigorously. It is a tough job and I like to think of them as the best." Major Burqibah now has a desk job but is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves and helping to save lives - in Dubai, other emirates and as far afield as Indonesia. Dubai Police Rescue works with all departments in the Government, including Dubai Civil Defence and the hospitals who send ambulances to accidents and fires.

Dubai also sent teams to help survivors after the tsunami in Indonesia, Pakistan's earthquake in 2005 and the earthquake in the southern Iranian town of Bam in 2004. "We worked with teams from all over the world, sharing our experience and skills," says Major Burqibah. "In Indonesia after the tsunami I rescued one man when I heard a faint cry. We got listening devices and found him barely alive on a boat. It was a great feeling to know we helped save a life."

The team faces a constant struggle to reduce the death toll on the roads of Dubai, with lorry crashes a particular dread. "It is never nice to attend an accident, but the worst are when lorries collide," says Major Burqibah. "In one accident, a lorry was basically wrapped up in two others and no one could get to the driver. A doctor had him on a drip and he was there for four hours before we could get him out of the wall of metal trapping him."

To deal with the city's high concentration of heavy lorries, Capt Hamadi has modified some of the rescue vans by adding ladders and platforms on top so they can get the cutters or "jaws of life" to the cabs. "When a lorry is in an accident, the cab is usually mangled and, because it is so high up, we needed some kind of platform to reach it." The rest of the fleet of vans is also modified, to hold tools ranging from cutting machines that function as angle grinders and even planks of wood that can be used to reinforce a structure that may be about to collapse.

The land rescue team of 100 is part of a wider network within Dubai Police Rescue, as there are teams for sea operations and also a 44-man special task force. "They are trained in everything and can do the same job as the other sections," says Maj Burqibah. "They are probably the best trained and can deal with everything including chemical spills and water-based operations. We have a full scuba-diving team too. "

On call 24 hours a day, the teams scramble to accidents within 15 minutes to help the injured. "On average, it takes 7.8 minutes to attend a scene," he says. "Sometimes it is faster and sometimes it takes a little longer, depending on the location of the accident. It is always go here, but on average we are called out about three times a day to accidents. It is not always the case, as some days we are constantly called out."

Capt Hamadi is based at the police headquarters beside Dubai Airport's Terminal 2 and is on call 24 hours a day, as are his colleagues. "One night, I got a call to a man in the mountains close to the Omani enclave in Ras al Khaimah," he says. "When we got there, we found he had fallen 15 metres and was bleeding badly. The Omani police were also present and we worked together and evacuated him to Rashid Hospital with the Dubai Air Wings division."

Maj Burqibah was confident his team would respond to the changing demands of the burgeoning city. "Dubai is growing and the construction brings its own problems, such as fires and workers stranded high up. We are constantly training and learning new tactics and skills. Everything is OK at the moment, but we will expand as Dubai expands and keep helping wherever we are needed.'