Translated feature article from the KATHIMERINI Newspaper.
” I look for a relative and friend, then I relieve families of the agony they go through. I allow them to morn and honor the deceased.” Written in Greek by George Terzis translated by Debbie Papadakis.
Volunteer Rescue workers are ‘unique’ individuals. These people have a high sense of responsibility, with a high sense of respect for their team and, particularly the people they rush to assist. They an inexplicable deep sense of modesty. Particularly those I met these past few months. On an average “Saturday afternoon Meeting” they revealed that they were Volunteer Rescue workers, only a few days ago, when they canceled their meeting. “We have to go to Mati immediately!” they told me once they saw the destruction that had occurred to the East of Attiki on the screen, it clouded the mind, as they heard Government officials assessing the situation that brought on an ‘odor’ of panic and cynicism. The odor was more potent than that of the fire itself.
Over the next few days, we remained in contact on a regular basis. At some point, I became persistent and asked:” But why do you want to talk about Mati?” My persistence would always be when their work was done. ” I am neither a journalist nor someone of public relations” he answered monotonously. at some point soon after I received an email with the following information that I have disclosed in this article with his permission.
THE DIARY OF A RESCUER.
At the crack of dawn, at first light, the five-member team you are apart of get together and prepare themselves. Your co-worker becomes your best friend and even a trusted psychologist at these moments. It may have been a while since you were together working, seven months or so, however, we become an efficient working machine as a unit, as a team. As we get ready, we know very well what we will be encountering, as we had in the past and know we will be confronting the same things again. The Pain, the sadness, and the disaster of things around us. We will face death. And fear. We will even face our own fear.
The first thing we do is check and recheck the map and equipment we have and that or our partners. We get supplies of water and a first aid kit and board our vehicles. Within 10 minutes we are at the front of the fire. On the way no one talks. The stench of burnt trees and debris dominates the atmosphere.
Upon arrival at the fire, we encounter the firefighters, exhausted but punching out and going strong. Endurance. We ask them if they need anything, they respond with a gesture to pass so that we can carry on with our mission. They are heroes, you get inspired and strength seeing them work. Driving through the narrow winding roads where mistakes are not permitted we arrive. We get out of our vehicle, wear equipment and put on our helmets, gloves, and masks and with a quick briefing, we start.
The first house we come across is small and almost totally destroyed. There is no fence just a gate at the entrance, that ironically stands on its own, closed with chared walls. Entering to the left of the gate, we encounter a black courtyard. Our boots almost sink in the ashes. Without the appropriate footwear, you would suffer severe burns. We inspect the whole site, walking at a slow steady pace: A tossed spoon at the base of a burnt tree; an untied shoe; a tossed doll at the edge of the property…wondering whether these things belong to the homeowner or to people that were passing through the property to save themselves. Were they saved? the stench of burning wood, burning flesh, burning plastic is very strong n the region. The atmosphere s suffocating.
We reach the entrance of the home. Before entering we check for signs of danger. It is highly significant to check for safety in order to be able to save people. Being perspective we notice the ceiling, the roof, and the structure ready to collapse. At the level of our stature, there are broken panes of glass and nails that protrude. On the floors, there are shattered glass, bottles and more nails…we have to be careful. We continue to enter in a single file.
By this stage, the mind is completely empty of all thoughts and the body ignores the unbearable heat. You concentrate on the investigation of the area. As for what you see, what you smell and what you hear, the only thing you hear and feel is the pace of your breathing and your footsteps on a pile of broken tiles, bunt wood and rubble. You see a water heater in the middle of what seemed to be a living room, a few hours ago. The team continued to enter a room that was once a bathroom. The only thing left intact was a basin. We go to the kitchen area. There are broken glasses and dishes everywhere. An open tumbled washing machine. Nothing. Near the washing machine, an iron table stood.
The odor is intense. A refrigerator had fallen to its side with the door open. ” Michael, help me” I shouted. Michael and the rest of the team are great teammates. We work together perfectly and know when we need something and what we need. Without saying much, ” Ready? One, two three! “We propped up the refrigerator in one go. I felt a cold sweat and I stopped breathing at the sight. Someone in their desperation to be saved found a freak death. How martyred were his last moments? Did he die of suffocation or from the fire itself, I do not know. What I encounter is terrifying. It is a moment when you need to control your nerves.
To be able to continue with your work you need to learn how to handle your thoughts and emotions. At this moment when a body is found, the Firebrigade chief is immediately notified for the deceased to be inspected, listed and identified. Soon after we continue our work, as the Firefighters continue theirs and the coroners do their jobs too.
But what about the relatives and friends of the victims? How will they continue to live? How can I ease their tears and pain? Right now, all I can do is ease the souls of the victims themselves. By finding the charred relative and friend, I end the family’s anxiety. I allow them to mourn and honor the dead.
Returning to the base, some people congratulate us. Honestly, I do not understand why. Today we found a dead man. Me? A rescuer? All I can rescue is dignity and humanity.”