UNSUNG  HEROES  OF  THE  GLORIETTA  BLAST

MANILA
, DECEMBER 9, 2007  (STAR) By Cheeko Ruiz - They’re unsung heroes who displayed bravery and resiliency in the face of danger and adversity.

Last Oct. 19, as people scampered out of the Glorietta 2 shopping mall in Makati City after a powerful blast, security personnel, rescue teams, firefighters and barangay officials raced to the blast site to help victims and restore order.

Ayala Land Inc. security guard Eduardo Jalem said he just had lunch at the fourth floor of Glorietta 2 when he heard a loud explosion at around 1:30 p.m.

He said he immediately ran to the roof deck where he saw the skylight ceiling broken to pieces.

The area was heavy with dust and debris and as he looked around he saw a man sprawled on the deck.

“I saw a man lying on the roof deck. I felt his pulse, he was breathing. I immediately asked for help from my fellow security guard and several maintenance crew,” Jalem told The STAR in an interview.

They put the victim on a stretcher and brought him to rescue personnel outside who in turn took him to a hospital along with the other injured victims.

To his knowledge, Jalem said the injured man – medium-built, around 5’5” tall, with fair complexion and in his early thirties – survived.

Vick Verdus, assistant team leader and training officer of the Makati Rescue Team, said that it was around 1:33 p.m. when they were alerted on the Glorietta 2 explosion.

The Makati Rescue Team has more than 30 highly trained personnel equipped for emergency situations.

Operations officer Anthony Melendres led 15 members of the rescue team that was dispatched to Glorietta.

Melendres’ men set up a command post at the nearby Park Square 2 and took positions at strategic areas where they launched search and rescue operations.

Verdus said that although they have had years of training and experience in dealing with explosions, they still tremble at the likelihood of a secondary blast. But the sight of wounded people pleading for help is too much to ignore, and enough to make him forget his own welfare.

“In trainings for rescuers, we are taught that our foremost concern should be our safety, next is the safety of the patients and third is the safety of bystanders. But man’s instinct says otherwise, ignoring the first level, that is, their safety, and jumping to the safety of the patients instead,” Verdus said in a telephone interview.

He said the greatest fulfillment that he gets from his job is the thought that “we are able to bring back the victims to their families alive.”

The Glorietta tragedy also proved the dedication to duty of Philippine National Red Cross volunteers.

The PNRC is the only non-government organization that sits in the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

“When we went there (Glorietta 2), we coordinated with city officials for the response, rescue and search of victims,” said Gwendolyn Pang, assistant secretary general of the PNRC.

Pang said Red Cross volunteers worked non-stop, not only in searching for victims but also in setting up welfare desks at the mall and at the hospitals where the relatives of missing persons went to inquire about their lost loved ones or seek updates.

Pang said the PNRC also donated blood and provided psycho-social support to survivors.

“We have volunteer blood donors and we keep stock of blood and send it to the hospitals even without request,” Pang said.

Pang admitted that her job is quite risky, especially for a woman like her, but the thought of helping others takes away her fears.

“There’s a reward when you are able to help,” said Pang. “Even if the person is already dead, at least he or she was found, for the peace of mind of the family. That’s already something for us,” she said.

Officials from the nearby Barangay San Lorenzo were also quick to attend to the victims.

“It was the first day of the campaign period (for the barangay elections). We were going around, we were a few blocks away when we heard a big bang,” said councilman Bridge Sibug, who is in charge of the security and peace and order of the barangay. In two to three minutes, they responded to the emergency at the blast site.

Sibug said they immediately called all the barangay police who quickly arrived at the blast site.

When they got there, the smoke was so thick and they had to wait first for it to clear.

“We were able to retrieve around nine to 10 bodies but they were dead on arrival (in the hospital),” said Sibug.

Barangay chairman Joshua Santiago, Sibug and some tanods retrieved the first four casualties.

A procession of injured and dying at the Makati Medical Center and at the Ospital ng Maynila failed to distract medical personnel from their tasks.

Dr. Danny Anastacio, MMC disaster coordinator, said they share disaster protocol with the other disaster coordinating councils in Makati, which include the fire department, bomb squad, Makati Rescue Team and Makati police.

“It was a team effort, and we were following a standard, the Joint Commission International,” Anastacio said. The JCI’s mission is to continuously improve the safety and quality of care in the international community through education and consultation services. It also provides international accreditation to disaster and relief agencies.”

Anastacio said the health workers knew exactly what to do, so everything went well and all the victims were attended to.

“Coordination was the key,” he said. “All those who had to be operated on survived,” he added.

Dr. Julius Drilon, officer-in-charge and hospital administrator of the Ospital ng Makati, said that upon seeing the influx of patients, the first thing that came to his mind was to make sure that everyone received proper medical attention.

Drilon said their swift response to the crisis was a product of so many years of drills. He said they attended to 34 patients.

“In situations like this, our role is to serve the patients. It’s a mandated responsibility,” Drilon said.

Although their hardships and sacrifices are oftentimes overlooked, these ordinary lifesavers said they would never waver in their commitment to protect and serve others.

“For me, the greatest fulfillment is when I get to be a bridge to a victim’s second life,” Verdus, of the Makati Rescue Team, said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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