Thursday, July 5, 2007


ILIKENA Waqabaca has been fighting fires for 15 years and says he enjoys it.
The senior officer at the Lami fire station loves what he is doing that he is not thinking of leaving the high risk job.
The 43-year-old native of Ono-i-Lau became a fireman in 1992 and within five years was promoted to be a senior officer of the National Fire Authority.
"My parents are from Ono-i-Lau but they moved to Vunimono Village in Nausori because they were teachers," he said.
"Most of my relatives have moved to Viti Levu but I go back to the island now and then, during the holidays."
Ilikena has a younger sister and brother.
"My job starts at nine in the morning and ends at nine the next morning," he said, meaning that he and other firemen were on call 24 hours a day.
"But we do get a lot of rest."
In accordance with international standards, firemen must rest for 48 hours after a 24-hour shift.
Apart from putting out fires, Ilikena also mans the control room.
"My work is challenging and that's why I like it.
"In fire fighting, you go to places where no one would go.
"Some of the greatest fires I have fought were the ones at MH's and the Hanson's supermarket at Makoi.
"Those fires were big but my colleagues and I managed to put them out.
"The important thing in our job is working together."
He said he believed the nature of the job was why he and his colleagues shared a special bond.
"We are like a big family and when we fight big fires, that relationship helps bind us together and put out the fire.
"We look after each other's back to see if any of our friends are in danger."
Before joining the service, Ilikena had been a private in the Fiji Military Forces for five years.
"My childhood dream was to join the army because I used to watch a lot of movies and I was excited about the work military people did.
"I was successful in the army but most of my relatives were in the fire department and after talking to them, I was drawn to their work.
"I wanted another challenge in my life and that is why I made the career change."
Ilikena said his late uncle, Isireli Qasenivalu, who was the chief fire officer at Lami fire station, inspired him to join the fire department.
Another influential person in his life was his father, Tevita.
"My father told us to go school and find a job. If we did not want to go to school, there was a special farming school back in the village. He always wanted us to get a good job and we made sure we found one or we would be transferred back to Ono-i-Lau."
Being raised on the island, when he is not at work, Ilikena is usually sweating it out in his plantation.
"I go to my dalo and cassava patch to do some planting. Sometimes I wait for my children to come back from school and we go to the plantation together.
"I enjoy spending time with my family and we often go fishing."
Ilikena is married to Sainiana and they have five sons and five daughters.
"We are religious and it helps our lives lot. It also gives me strength to fight and overcome problems in life.
"I am the sole breadwinner in my family and it has been God's blessings and my wife's support that helped us succeed."
When asked if he had any pearls of wisdom to share, he said families needed to be vigilant with their young wards.
"Keep a close watch on your children because they do not know the dangers of playing with match sticks and fire.
"It is always wise to practise safe house-keeping."