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May 12, 2018

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Firefighters were among the first responders

XIA Mingren has the scene implanted forever in his mind: the bare mountains, the flattened houses, the bodies of dead children on the ground.

He was one of 400 firefighters from Shanghai who joined the first rescue teams to reach Yingxiu Town in Sichuan Province after the massive earthquake of May 12, 2008.

Lt Col Xia, now chief of staff at the headquarters of the Jing’an District Public Security Bureau’s Fire Brigade, was among the first rescuers to be ferried by helicopter into the area of the epicenter of the quake two days after it struck.

“As soon as we landed, we were surrounded by a large number of locals,” he recalls. “And in their eyes I saw some rays of hope.”

On his first evening there, Xia and his colleagues pulled three children alive from the rubble of an elementary school.

“A lot of people would congregate whenever we announced that someone had been found alive,” he says.

In the first few days, roads remained blocked to relief convoys. The rescue teams slept in makeshift shelters of wood and plastic cloth. Intermittent rain didn’t help. Xia says he once saw a young rescuer sound asleep in a pool of water where he had fallen from sheer fatigue.

“Many of the younger ones who were with us in the rescue effort went on to become cadets, saying they were inspired to devote their careers to saving lives,” says Xia, who had been working as a firefighter for over 10 years by 2008.

One of the tools used by the Shanghai rescue team is now on display at a local memorial site.

Xia says several people he and his colleagues saved in the town later came to Shanghai to thank them in person.

Jiang Yuhang, a young man who miraculously survived five days without food and water before being pulled from the rubble, later became a firefighter in Shanghai.

“No one wants such tragedies to happen again, but we know that we all stand ready in the face of any disaster,” Xia says.


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