It all started with a flame.
When 43-year-old Laxmi Paudel, a resident of Bharatpur-2, Aaptari- Milan tole, went to her neighboring community of Gaidakot to participate in a wedding, she did not realize that it would be a test for her fire safety skills that day.
At the ceremony, some people were busy preparing selroti, a Nepali version of rice flour doughnut, in large utensils containing significant quantities of oil. Due to some technical glitch, the flame in the gas stove went out of control and people fled fearing a big fire. Listening to the commotion, Laxmi quickly reached the scene, calmly turned off the gas regulator and sealed off the lid of the utensil, preventing any further escalation.
Laxmi is one of the many CERT volunteers in Bharatpur who recently received training on firefighting and kitchen fire safety through UNDP, thanks to support from EU Humanitarian Aid. Had she not identified the problem and aptly utilized her skills on time, the small fire incident at the wedding could have turned into a huge catastrophe.
“I used to be terrified before whenever I saw fire breakouts. But the training from UNDP helped me erase some common misconceptions regarding different types of fires in our community and provided me both skills and confidence to deal with them effectively,” said Laxmi.
Laxmi is also the Vice-Chairperson of a mothers’ group in Milan tole, which is a poverty pocket area of Bharatpur. The tole with various socio-economic vulnerabilities is also at a very high risk of fire. Mostly daily wages workers and landless people reside in this informal settlement. The houses here have very narrow spaces and paths which are not accessible by ambulance and fire trucks during emergencies. A risk assessment carried out by UNDP had pointed to an urgent need to enhance the understanding of communities on fire risks in this area and provide skills, knowledge and resources for effective response.
“There was a fire in my community in 2018 which completely destroyed three houses and wounded three people,” Laxmi recalls. She added that if they had received such trainings earlier, the first responders would have been able to deal with the incident effectively and prevent further loss. She has also emphasized that such trainings would be very useful for women like her who are constantly exposed to fire in the kitchen every day.
Understanding how crucial firefighting skills can be for saving lives, Laxmi has been actively involved in transferring her skills and knowledge to other people in her community. Recognizing her bravery and commitment, Bharatpur Metropolitan City recently felicitated her with a token of appreciation during the inauguration ceremony of the Municipal Emergency Operation Centre (MEOC) by EU Ambassador H.E. Nona Deprez in February.
“Urban disaster preparedness is very crucial and urgent in Nepal. We are happy to see local communities, especially women, in Bharatpur take ownership of such initiatives to strengthen systems at all levels to effectively respond to disasters in the urban pockets and save lives.”, said EU Ambassador to Nepal H.E. Nona Deprez at the ceremony.
“Fire has become an inseparable part of our lives now. It’s quite inspiring for us to hear stories about women in Bharatpur bravely responding to fires by utilizing their knowledge and skills, and supporting the Metropolitan’s overall disaster preparedness and response mechanism.”, added Bharatpur Metropolitan City’s Mayor Renu Dahal.
The urban disaster preparedness project has reached out to more than 200 women like Laxmi through different trainings and awareness campaigns on fire safety and preparedness. More of such trainings are in the pipeline.
Story and photos by Abhushan Gautam Shakya