KOTA KINABALU: Firemen stationed at Mount Kinabalu in Ranau, about 100km from here, are bracing themselves for busy days ahead now that more climbers are allowed to scale Malaysia’s highest peak.

The men from the Fire and Rescue Department’s Mountain Search and Rescue (Mosar) team were busy with rescue work before Covid-19 struck, and hardly saw action in the last two years.

Ranau Fire and Rescue chief Ridwan Mohd Taib said all that was about to change with the reopening of the country’s borders on April 1.

“I have to check to be real sure, but roughly, we handled fewer than 10 rescue missions in 2021,” he told The Star.

“This year, we have encountered at least 27 cases already, with most of the climbers facing issues like acute mountain sickness (AMS) and other injuries such as dislocations as a result from falls.

“With more domestic and international tourists allowed to enter Sabah, that means more people will climb Mount Kinabalu.

“As such, we are expecting more potential issues to occur.

“But we are always prepared. If we don’t have enough personnel, we will deploy more backup from our Ranau fire station to help out,” said Ridwan.

Kinabalu Park, where Mount Kinabalu is located, was closed to the public in March 2020 when the movement control order was imposed.

Since then, it had reopened and closed several times in response to surges in Covid-19 infections in Sabah, before reopening for good on Sept 16 last year.

Ridwan said they had two Mosar teams stationed at Mount Kinabalu, one on standby near the peak, and the other at the foot of the mountain.

“The teams will exchange positions with each other every day, but suffice to say, they will always be on standby, even when there are no climbers,” he said.

According to Ridwan, the Mosar team also work hand in hand with Sabah Parks, which is in charge of all national parks in the state, as it also has its own rescue teams.

He added that first-time climbers were usually the ones facing most issues.

“They normally suffer from AMS. They will show mild symptoms like lack of oxygen, vomiting and no appetite, while the more serious cases that involve dizziness and anxiety, would mean they are unable to continue the climb,” Ridwan said.

He said those with physical injuries would also need to be carried down the mountain using stretchers.

Towards this end, he advised climbers, especially those making their first ascent up Mount Kinabalu, to physically prepare themselves as well as mentally.

“Besides that, they must also carry only what they need so that they won’t add unnecessary weight to their backpacks.

“There are porters for hire to carry their stuff, but some prefer to challenge themselves.

“We understand this, but we also want people to have a fun and safe experience going up the mountain,” he said.