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7 calls and no sign of firemen
Published on: Monday, September 13, 2021
By: Sherell Jeffrey
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The calls made from 2.49am till 3.03am. The caller said that at 3.03am there was still no sign of the firemen, although the department claimed it arrived at the scene at 3.04am.
Kota Kinabalu: A neighbour at Taman Hungab, in Penampang, where a pre-dawn blaze on Tuesday wiped out a family of four contacted the Daily Express to dispute the Fire and Rescue Department’s version of events that day. She also provided evidence to back up her claim.

She noted that the Department specifically referred to a MERS999 call that was received at 2.52am, in which it claimed the caller gave an incorrect address resulting in unnecessary delay in reaching the blaze site – a claim that has since also been challenged by the caller. 

“Even if there was a caller who gave the wrong address, how about me who did not call MERS999 but decided to call the Bomba in Penampang and Sembulan direct,” she said.

Angel (not her real name) said while she did not call MERS999, she frantically tried but failed to get any answer when she called the station in Penampang, until she gave up.

Altogether she made seven calls to the Penampang and Sembulan stations. Four of those calls between 2.49am and 3am were to the Penampang station but there was silence or no ringing tone.

Only calls she made to the Sembulan station at 2.50, 2.57 and 3.03 were answered, assuring her that help was on the way.

“I made the first call to the Penampang Fire and Rescue station at 2.49am. However, there was only silence, prompting me to call the Sembulan station at 2.50am,” she said.

She had success when she called the Sembulan station and specifically gave the address saying it is Taman Hungab in Penampang.

“I remember very clearly saying Taman Hungab Penampang and they didn’t ask for any clarification. They only asked for my name and phone number.

“I even remember stressing Taman Hungab many times,” she said.

“I made that many calls because I was desperate for help. We were all doing our best to get help. I kept calling to ask where the firefighters were and the person who answered my call at the Sembulan station kept assuring that help was on the way.

However, she said, despite assurance upon assurance, there was still no sign of the firefighters.

“At one point I kept asking if the firefighters could come faster since the fire was getting bigger, only to be told by the person at the other end of the line (Sembulan station) that it is normal for a fire to spread fast.”

The resident said she got the numbers of both fire stations via the Google search browser and was wondering why one that was about eight kilometres away (Sembulan) was reachable while the other that was barely a kilometre away (Penampang) could not be reached.

“Google search directed me to a number, which I subsequently called by pressing the ‘call’ icon which indicated that it was the Penamapng Fire and Rescue Station,” she said.

She said she managed to reach out to the Sembulan Fire Station

also via the google search browser.

“In the news, I read that they (Bomba) had to verify the address with another caller and that they (Bomba) didn’t even know they were headed in the wrong direction.

“They only knew they were headed in the wrong direction when one of our neighbours ran and chased them to tell them that they were headed in the wrong direction before directing them to the right location in his car,” she said. 

On whether anyone called her back to clarify the address, she said: “Nobody called me to clarify the address despite me calling a few times.”

She also disputed the department’s claim that the firefighters arrived at the scene at 3.04am. “That definitely wasn’t the case because at 3.03am I was still asking Bomba Sembulan why they are still not coming. 

“I remember getting a call from my relative at 3.18am and by that time the firefighters had just arrived a few minutes earlier, perhaps around 3.10am.”

She was also the one who alerted SESB about a blackout at about 11.26pm. “Power supply was restored about five minutes later.” She said the fire happened two or three hours after the power outage.

While she was trying to contact the two Sabah fire stations directly, other neighbours were doing the same but by calling MERS 999 where their calls are normally channelled to the peninsula (Kuala Lumpur or Malacca) or Kuching (Sarawak) first – an arrangement that has been in place since 2008 but has come under criticism following the tragedy from Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor and former CM Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, among others.

Matthew Wong, 50; Jecky Vun Kon Fung, 48; Brendan Wong, 18; and Eric Wong, 15 lost their lives in the fire.



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