INTERVIEW. Brig. Karol Kierzkowski for AWPE: Polish firefighters are recognizable and highly rated in the rescue world

Polish rescue team HUSAR

Rescuers from the State Fire Service carry out a rescue operation after an earthquake in Turkey. How is it going? What were the biggest problems faced by the Polish HUSAR rescue group and how were they solved?

On Monday morning, February 6, 2023, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale occurred in the Gaziantep province of Turkey. Through the ERCC, Turkey submitted a request for search and rescue forces to quickly intervene in the area and rescue people from under the rubble, and Poland expressed its accession. The Polish Heavy Search and Rescue Group HUSAR, i.e. 76 State Fire Service firefighters with 8 dogs from the province of Łódź, Małopolskie, Mazowieckie, Pomorskie, Wielkopolskie and Dolnośląskie voivodships. On February 7, 2023, the Polish HUSAR group landed in Gaziantep at 2:29 local time (0:29 Polish time). They arrived as the 3rd group in the Gaziantep region to help the people of the region. In the morning, local time, the group left the airport for Adiayaman, where it was initially supposed to conduct search and rescue operations. During the group’s journey, due to the urgent need to start rescue operations in another part of the Adıyaman province, the Turkish authorities decided to redirect Polish firefighters to Besni (over 70,000 inhabitants). Initial information shows that many buildings have collapsed in the region, including multi-family buildings, where people may still be alive.

Firefighters began preparations for the quickest possible entry of rescue teams into operations and in parallel they began building a base of operations for HUSAR Poland.

After 15 (Polish time) we received good news – the first rescued man! The man was extracted from the rubble by Polish and Turkish rescuers. About the 18, another good news about the second rescued person and in a short time we received information about the 3rd rescued, alive person. The command also informed that all Polish teams will be operating tonight to increase the chances of success of the rescue operation. In the late evening, another 5 people, a 17-year-old girl and a family of 4 (parents and two children) were saved. So far, HUSAR Poland has extracted 8 people alive. A day later, at 5.51 am local time, a 9th person (a 13-year-old girl) was extracted alive, while around noon a 10th person – a young woman – was rescued. The situation on the spot is very difficult, also due to the weather conditions (strong, frosty wind), but firefighters are still working with full commitment. On February 9, 2023, on Thursday morning, after many hours of very difficult action, firefighters extracted a man (aged 62) from the rubble – this is the 11th person saved so far.

What parts does the HUSAR search and rescue team consist of?

These are 76 firefighters and 8 rescue dogs. The heavy search and rescue group includes a command, search and rescue component, including 3 doctors, 4 paramedics, 4 structural engineers.

How many people have been saved in Turkey so far?

Until Thursday, 8:30 am Polish time, Polish firefighters pulled 11 people alive from under the rubble.

This is not the first such mission of Polish firefighters. How often do they participate in actions outside our country?

1999 – Turkey, 2003 – Iran, 2005 – Pakistan, 2010 – Haiti, 2015 – Nepal, 2020 – Lebanon. In addition, Polish firefighters recently took part in extinguishing a forest fire in France 2022, earlier there were actions in the Czech Republic in 2022, Greece – 2021, Turkey – 2021, Sweden – 2018.

Which of the previous actions do you remember as bringing the greatest challenges?

All actions are equally challenging. The most difficult were in Nepal and Haiti due to the large distances from the country and the scale of damage.

How is the work of Polish firefighters assessed by their foreign partners?

Polish firefighters are recognizable and highly rated in the rescue world. In Lebanon in 2020, they were allowed into the rescue operation only with a group from France as the best prepared rescuers.

Interview by Anna Wiejak

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