Your firefighters in different forms
Those sporadic fire truck sirens that blare on the streets never failed to give us the jump. It gives us a mini heart attack, followed by the sinister foreboding of what is burning and the lives that might be in peril.
This March, we observe Fire Prevention Month and come to scene are the men and women in uniform who seldom get the light despite their noble fight. Just as we hear only about the actual fire and ruins, there are battles daily in lives and personal fires that are never put out. These are stories of women firefighters who have shown courage in the face of their own private fires.
No to bribe
From their lowly life in Carigara, Leyte to the tense streets of Olongapo City, Zambales, Rochelle Peñaflor, 40, has surprisingly not engaged in any fire incident during her 11 years of service. Her proud achievement is to process fire clearances, inspect establishments and make sure Olongapo is safe from hazards of fire.
“I help process business permit, inspect buildings, prevent fire. I never engaged in fire. I share my knowledge how to prevent it,” Senior Fire Officer 1 Peñaflor, who has been stationed at the Business One Stop Shop at Olongapo City Hall for over a decade, said.
Dousing fire and basking in the glory of flames saving lives is the apparent pinnacle of a firefighter’s career, but not with Peñaflor. She glows in the glory of her integrity and her public service that is unscathed with corruption, turning down countless offers and bribes whenever she inspects establishments that apply for fire clearance.
“I am proud that I am a decent firefighter. My name is not tainted and I don’t step on anyone’s shoes,” Peñaflor said. “I avoid what people give, the pangmeryenda. I don’t want my character bought. Small or big, I believe that’s a bribe.”
Coming from a family of farmers, Peñaflor knew the poor cannot afford an accident. While staying with her aunt in Olongapo and working as household help during her college years, she dreamed of being a member of the national police. Chances led her to apply at the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) which paved way to her assignment at the city hall. About 8,000 business establishments spread the former US Naval Base that apply for fire clearance and need inspection.
Among the specifications that Peñaflor checks are the establishment’s fire exit, emergency light, fire extinguisher and directional signs. She revealed many clients tried to buy their way out or sprang to wrath due to the tedious process, but the public servant she is, Peñaflor maintained diplomacy and integrity. Her Saturdays are still filled with building inspections to help a city sleep safe and sound without sirens. In Sundays, our honest firefighter, a member of the LGBT community, enjoys taking care of her cats and dogs with her partner.
Love born of fire
Carmela Atanacio, 32, and her husband, Joey, both studied Elementary Education in college. Little did they know that their paths as teachers will lead them both as educators on how to save lives through preventing fires.
When they landed their first jobs at BFP after graduation, it was a match. Now a fire officer 3, Atanacio is proud to have been teaching the public ways to prevent accidents, while Joey is a senior fire officer 2 stationed in La Union province. Their love gave birth to two kids.
“At work, I’m a firefighter. At home, I’m am mother,” Atanacio said. “During the weekends, I’m still on call for response. Sometimes, I have to be with my kid at school but I can’t because we I have duties.”
At first, her family was dumbfounded with her career choice, but she defended it by sharing that firefighters now need to be fully qualified: college graduate, civil service passer and has accomplished training. Assigned at Mexico Fire Station in Pampanga, Atanacio is chief administrative officer and collecting agent in charge of tax collection from business establishments that apply for fire safety clearance. The taxes she collects are used for developments through the local government.
Ten years in public service, Atanacio never dreamed to be a firefighter. Now, she is happy to teach her kids how to be safe as young as they are.
“The first time I learned about the cancer, I was down. I just started with my career. I have two kids, one 10 years old and the other is 8.”
Rose Lyn Dumlao, 35, did not have it easy in career. With dreams of working abroad, she bounced off as nurse in hospitals and in a college as she tried her luck applying to different countries. While with kids, unemployment besieged her in 2011. Luck turned around when she got into BFP in 2012, but breast cancer zapped 2013.
Dumlao failed to finish the compulsory BFP training and had to undergo operation to have her left breast removed, followed by rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. “There was the struggle that I would not be renewed at BFP,” she recalled. The bureau rallied behind her throughout the scary battle, helped her to get back; she finished training and now serves the public as a fire officer 2 also in Mexico. Dumlao is now six years cancer-free, but the fear silently remains. “I have to undergo tests quarterly. In every test, I keep on praying over and over again that the cancer is gone.”
Mad clients applying for fire clearance are a different story of patience. Her duties as firefighter and her husband’s as a police are another story that tells weekends are not for family bonding. Be that as it may, Dumlao has survived cancer and more so the fires it brings.
Author’s Note: By virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 115-A, we observe March as Fire Prevention Month. This year’s theme is Ligtas na Pilipinas Ating Kamtin, Bawat Pamilya ay Sanayin, Kalaaman sa Sunog ay Palawakin.