“I’m not a hero, just a servant”
The leader for a team of firefighters who got dangerously close to the blazing fuel tank at the Matautu wharf on Monday has downplayed widespread praises for their bravery.
Approached by the Weekend Observer for a comment, Commander of Operations, Aleaga Fuafiva, said they were merely carrying out the work they exist to do.
“All the glory belongs to God,” he said. “He is the one who kept Samoa safe. In saying that, I don’t consider myself a hero, I am just a servant who was doing what I’m supposed to do.”
But many members of the public disagree.
They have heaped praises on the work of Mr. Fuafiva and his team, heralding their efforts and commending their bravery. Some have gone as far as to call on the government to honour the work of the firemen with a special bravery award.
And it’s easy to see why. Armed with equipment and hoses that could easily be described as inadequate, Mr. Fuafiva and his team ran towards the burning tanks while everyone else fled for their lives.
Reflecting on Monday’s events Mr. Fuafiva said they did not have time to think about their safety.
“We had a job to do and we knew there was no one else there but us and if we didn’t step up, the lives of members of the public would have been at risk,” he said.
Having been a fireman for 25 years, Mr. Fuafiva said Monday’s blaze was the most difficult one he has encountered.
“It was hard for us to get any closer because it was very hot,” he said.
“I was afraid, I was worried but I can’t be distracted from what I was doing because the life of the people and the life of my boys depends on me.”
Mr. Fuafiva disagrees with suggestions that the fire was not a danger to the public.
“Of course lives were at risk. We also had properties to protect including the government’s properties. There were so many people that could have been affected.”
According to Mr. Fuafiva, when they arrived at the site, they tried to protect the other two tanks. He confirmed that it took a while to put out the fire because they did not have foam right away.
“In those kinds of situations, you just have to do what you can and work with what you have.”
Mr. Fuafiva acknowledged the support from P.P.S Company, their colleagues from the airport who shared their foam supply and everyone who contributed.
“I thank God that we were able to put out the fire within four hours,” he said.
“To say that I wasn’t scared would be a lie. But I thank God that we have been spared.
The 45-year-old has been a firefighter all his life. He first joined in 1992 and over the years, he said that while there are always challenges, they go out of their way to protect Samoa and the properties.
Looking ahead, he agrees with claims that Monday’s fire was a wake up call.
From the Fire Service’s perspective, he said there is a need for more training on how to address these particular types of incidents.
He also believes they could do with better equipment.
“On Monday, we did our best. To me personally, there is nothing to be boastful about but as a country, we need to thank God for his protection.”
Mr. Fuafiva hails from the villages of Matautu Falealili and Papauta. He is married with five children.