Among the many agencies that rushed to Kerala to participate in the rescue operations during the floods of the last one week, the Odisha Fire Force had the best storied operational history dating back to 1942.
Its firefighters had memorably fought the conflagration set off by Japanese bombers in Jatasingphpur district at the peak of the Second World War. The force had fought a supercyclone in 1999 and another, Huhud, in 2014. Their expertise came to the rescue of Kerala when floodwaters swamped vast swathes of the State.
Director General of Police, Fire Force, Odisha, B. K. Sharma told The Hindu that the Centre ordered the force to rush to Kerala. He sent two companies headed by Chief Fire Officer Sukaath Sethi. It also perhaps helped that State Police Chief Loknath Behera hails from Odisha. They touched down in Thiruvananthapuram on August 15 in two back-to-back flights.
The men brought 63 inflatable rubber boats with outboard engines, a valued resource that gave an added impetus to the water rescue in flood Aluva and Chengannur. The officers also carried with them scuba equipment, underwater gas cutters and powerful lights.
Mr .Sharma said the firefighters were all deepwater divers trained at the Odisha Government’s diving school at Oswalt.
In Kerala, the firefighters split into two teams and were deployed at Kottayam and Aluva.
Mr. Sethi said their primary task was to remove underwater obstacles that impeded the outflow of flood waters.
Their equipment, boats and lights allowed the force to operate in darkness and pounding rain. The fast flowing waters posed little impediment to the trained and strong swimmers.
In all, Odisha firefighters rescued 2,500 stranded Keralites.
The force has now returned to the capital and is set to return to Odisha with Kerala’s gratitude.