Civil Defence Brigade in Saraqib

26 June 2015

When the regime failed to silence the Syrian voices chanting for freedom it resorted to unmitigated violence from the air and on the ground. Indiscriminate bombing massacred dozens of civilians and flattened whole towns. The activists of Saraqib, however, chose to resists by salvaging what they can, and so was the start of the Civil Defense Brigades in Saraqib.

The brigades were established as a first-aid response team, without prior experience or preparation. Laith al-Abdallah, who joined the team after he saw a tank shooting bombing a market square full of civilians: “since that day, I have not left my work as a first-responder,” he says. The team began with only one pick-up truck that they used to move the injured away from danger. Soon after, the team’s founder, Imad, was killed by a bomb that targeted the rescue efforts at the town. The team persevered and they were given access to a real ambulance. They were now known as the “Martyr Imad Rescue Team”. Their activities now stretched to the countryside of Idlib and to the field hospitals near the Turkish border.

Civil defence team in Saraqib. Source: Humans of Syria.

The increasing violence and brutality and the use of even more deadly weapons, such as barrel bombs, however, meant that the rudimentary equipments of the team soon became useless. “The destruction was huge and the numbers of victims and injured under the rubble too large, we had to take on rescue responsibilities rather than first-aid,” Laith recalls, “the first person I dragged from under the rubble was my brother, who died from regime bombing in front of our house.” After that, Laith decided to establish a permanent civil defense team, where he led the rescue efforts.

The transformation from a first-aid team into an organised civil defense brigade was also prompted by some of the mistakes and shortcomings in the team. “After several brutal bombing campaigns we noticed that the chaos that ensued was costing more lives, and we decided to organise and train a more professional civil defense brigade.” The team was able, through the collaboration with development organisations, to acquire specialised equipment such as a bulldozer and an old refurbished fire truck. Today the work is organised among four main teams: first-aid, rescue, firefighting and evacuation. The evacuation team became a necessity after a series of chemical weapons attacks in the region of Idlib where civilians needed to be evacuated promptly.

Laith during his work. Source: Humans of Syria.
Laith during his work. Source: Humans of Syria.

The team received some funding for the first four months from an umbrella group that aims to develop local civil defense initiatives. However, most of the day-to-day costs of running the equipments comes from donations from the local communities. The working environment of the team is extremely dangerous and many friends of Laith have fallen victim during their work: “We have lost two doctors, one responder, as well as two from the rescue team.”


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Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad