Mukesh Babu – the South Auckland based Indian-origin firefighter – holds the unique distinction of being one of the only two Indian-origin firefighters in New Zealand.
The fact that only two people of Indian-origin have ever worked as firefighters in NZ could easily come as a discomforting shock for many in the community, as Indians are known to have lived in NZ for more than hundred years.
The official start of the summers, and the dawn of the fire season upon us, naturally initiates a strange sense of inquisitiveness towards the firefighters.
It was in pursuit of this inquisitiveness towards the firefighters – the heroes in the community – that The Indian Weekender initiated an enquiry into the numbers of Kiwi-Indians working as firefighters.
The idea was to find heroes within the local Kiwi-Indian community and celebrate their contributions in keeping our communities safe.
Given that there has been a respectable surge recently in the number of Indians working in NZ Police – one of the other public safety and emergency services in NZ, the expectation was to run into decent numbers of fellow Kiwi-Indians working as firefighters.
However, The Indian Weekender team was due for a discomforting shock to find that only two people have so far worked as firefighters.
Initially, it was a bit hard to fathom, especially in 2017, when the number of Indians have swelled to a level of making the community fourth largest ethnic group in NZ.
Nevertheless, the initial disappointment gave way to thrill and excitement of having the first-hand opportunity of meeting and seeing an Indian-origin firefighter in action.
Indeed, the firefighters like other emergency services are the ones who are least expected at our place but are the ones who make the critical difference between life and death when they eventually turn up.
The Indian Weekender visited Papatoetoe Fire Station to meet with and see Mukesh Babu in action.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
IWK: Please tell us about your history in New Zealand. How long have you been in this country?
Mukesh Babu: I was born in Auckland and raised in Pukekohe. My family has been in New Zealand for the last 99 years with my grandparents arriving from the Indian state of Gujarat.
IWK: What prompted you to opt for firefighting as a career?
Mukesh Babu: I have always wanted to do something for the community and opt for careers that give you enough opportunities to serve the community. Earlier I have worked in the army from 2001 to 2004 and I joined Fire and Emergency services 10 years ago.
IWK: It appeared to be a short career in the army?
Mukesh Babu: Yeah, I wanted to travel around and see the world. See it a little bit more than the conflict areas, where the career in armed forces can take you.
IWK: On that note, have you ever travelled back to India?
Mukesh Babu: Oh yes, many times. In fact, I was there last year visiting my grandmother, and before that, it was about five years ago. I regularly visit India as we still have family-home and lot of relatives, especially from my mum’s side.
IWK: Tell us your experience of being one of the only two Indian origin firefighters in NZ?
Mukesh Babu: Well, I have not joined the fire services with any goal of impressing someone or getting recognition of being the first or one of the two India-origin firefighters. It’s just that I always wanted to do something for the community.
IWK: How does action start here in the fire station whenever there is a call for help?
Mukesh Babu: Every time bell goes on, we have two minutes to respond. Meaning, to get to the vehicle from wherever we are inside the station, with our gears on, and get out of the door.
IWK: Can you tell us how do you feel when you go to action? What goes inside you?
Mukesh Babu: I am there to make the difference. I am there to help. So I will do everything that is under my control, and that is safe for me to do, to help the people in my community.
IWK: What is the best thing about this job?
Mukesh Babu: The best thing about this job is that we are here to help the community. We turn up when people are usually having a bad day, but we are there to make it better.