During the filming of Earthquake Diaries (Balakot) in 2005, I witnessed first-hand how Pakistani firefighters played an integral role in the rescue and relief efforts of those afflicted by the devastating Pakistani earthquake. Their selfless contributions many times went unnoticed, and I felt that we needed to shed more light on the wonderful work they do and raise awareness about their working conditions.
My idea of making a documentary on the lives of these firemen had initially been turned down by a couple of local news channels. I tried a different approach and then got in touch with reporters from Hyderabad and Karachi, and photographed fires that had taken place in these two cities. In a few months we had enough data to create a visual proposal that was significant enough to convince my EP at Dawn News TV on green-lighting a documentary on firemen in Pakistan.
In preparation for the documentary, I spent five days living at the Al Markaz fire station in Karachi in order to fully understand the conditions our firemen worked in. I spent time talking to the firemen and began to understand what it really meant to be a part of a fireman’s family.
“They spoke about how difficult it is for them and their families because no one knows if they will come back for their evening meals or not,” said Azfar, “and I felt this was a great injustice on our part. By ‘our’ I mean our part of the citizenry perhaps does not do enough to acknowledge their contributions.”
On January 15, 2007, eight firemen were buried and burned alive in a cotton factory at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi. Station 58 explores the peril the firemen were in while fighting the fire and how some of them barely managed to escape death. It deals with the emotional turmoil the family of a fireman goes through every time he is engaged in the line of duty.
Station 58 includes first-hand accounts by professional firemen of devastating fires that not only endangered their lives and those of their colleagues, but also affected them on an emotional level in terms of the human devastation that they had caused. They remember colleagues that died during rescue efforts and speak candidly about the uncertainty of their lives and the lack of basic medical services that they get.
The narrative sheds light on the incredible motivation and generosity of the human spirit that is required to be a fireman, and what truly makes them Pakistan’s unsung heroes.