Balinese fire fighters Press Release By Kasimir Zierl 

Kasimir Zierl is a filmmaker and photographer, he travels the world to chase stories that interest him. This series of photographs is from his collection 'Kebakaran' shot in Bali it follows the local firefighters as they extinguish a terrible blaze.


Where were these photos taken?

I was living in Bali at the time, making films for resorts. I had spent the entire day on my laptop in a cafe when suddenly the waitress shrieked and screamed that a huge fire had started a few buildings away. More eyes were on the fire than on the sunset, the cloud of smoke was rising high up into the sky. I dropped everything and raced over to catch the firefighters as they saved the neighbourhood.


What kind of fire was it once you saw it?

A huge crowd had gathered and the Firefighters had to push past everyone to get to the fire, the crowd was very fascinated in the blaze but they were completely in the way. The building that was burning was a shop in a very narrow street, bad electrics had sparked the blaze and the power was cut to save the rest of the street. In Bali, however, blackouts are common. There was a very real danger of the fire moving to the adjacent buildings and igniting the entire street since the buildings in that neighbourhood are very poorly built.


Whose shop was it?

The family that lived and worked in the building very quickly raced out and were fortunately very safe, they lived in the back of their shop which is common in Indonesia and the whole night they watched their lives being incinerated. All of their belongings and their source of income was eaten by the fire.


Tell me about the Fire Brigade, do they work differently in Bali?

I was surprised by the Fire Brigade, the volunteers looked as though they didn't have adequate training at all, some 'star' Firefighters did most of the work and the younger guys stood around petrified by their duties, the Fire Chief constantly had to force the team back inside the building because they would much rather have watched from outside.
The fire hose was more of a garden hose, and it had leaks all along it's length, and little fountains of water sprinkled over the debris as it was pulled across the ground, it had been repaired with sticky tape.
There was an element of a circus act about the whole thing, as if a troupe of clowns were fighting the fire instead of trained squad.


Tell me about the crowd of onlookers

The brave neighbours were helping as much as they could, one man was flapping a palm frond to tamper the embers, there was a string of buckets of water coming from over the fence that was being tossed onto the fire and a neighbour had extended his garden hose over the fence. Bali is a very community oriented island and when someone is in trouble then everyone is quick to help them out.


How close were you to the action?

My photographs are always right in the middle of the story, I like to get close and take the viewer into the action. The smoke was suffocating, and I had my t-shirt wrapped around my face, there were many times that I had to duck down as the wind blew smoke into my eyes and burned my lungs. I waited until the roof had collapsed until I went in to the debris and I was careful to remain in a safe position.


You showcase the Firefighters as giants, they tower over your photographs

I have always admired Firefighters, they are my heroes, so even though they were a bumbling group of volunteers, I wanted to portray them as epic heroes, going in where no one else would dare. These contradictions are very interesting to me in my work.


Was anyone injured that day?

At the beginning when I ran to the scene, I heard a lot of commotion about a child that was trapped in their bedroom, but this turned out to be a poster that was only barely visible through the window. Everyone had evacuated the building as soon as possible, few houses have fire alarms because they are too expensive for the locals, so it was the smell of smoke caused them to raise the alarm. The family that lived in the building were very upset, and were being consoled by their community, everything that they owned had been lost. I found out that the family didn't have home and contents insurance, which is common, so their family would have to pay for the replacements of everything that was lost. The Balinese are very superstitious people, so the next few days there was a cleansing ceremony to appease the fire spirits.


What lessons did you learn from the event?

I bought a fire extinguisher the next day and changed the batteries of the fire alarms in my villa. It was definitely a surprise how fast the house came down. I take fire safety a lot more seriously now than I did before.