Fire in the belly

Industrial fire today in Chabahil saw locals using their bare hands to fill buckets with muddy water. It took 27 minutes for the first fire engine to arrive.

It all began in 2008 after a visit to Mt Everest Base Camp. My fear of heights and general unfitness meant that I never climbed a mountain and had no intention of ever doing so. So I was naturally quite proud of myself when I reached Base Camp.

Back in America, a commanding officer of the U S Navy SEALs belittled my accomplishment by saying Base Camp was “not even close to the summit”. The other SEALs in attendance laughed heartily.

Even watchmakers have egos, and so I did something foolish - I vowed to return to Nepal to climb to the summit of Mt Everest to raise $250,000 for the SEAL Foundation and to plant the SEAL flag on the top.  

Subsequently, the SEALs invited me to train on their base in Coronado, California. The rigours of endless hours of physical training made me pass out almost daily. I put up with the various challenges my amphibious friends threw at me.

The Everest expedition was a not a complete failure. I reached the summit, and that SEAL flag now hangs framed on a wall in the entrance of the headquarters in Coronado. Still, the expedition failed to reach its fundraising goal. Multiple TV and radio appearances designed to encourage the audience to donate directly to the SEAL Foundation had not produced the desired effect.

However, by then it was too late to cancel the project. My SEAL friends gave me every encouragement to continue on. We had in the meantime received a commitment letter for two one-hour-long television episodes to be broadcast on PBS in America, and the expedition had attracted many high-profile supporters. Even Johnny Depp expressed a desire to drive a fire truck.

Read also: Who needs  fire trucks?, Dinkar Nepal

This country needs positive PR, especially with Visit Nepal Year 2020 just around the corner. If we can show a worldwide audience that world-famous actors and rock stars can fall in love with Nepal, we stand a chance of actually reaching the lofty goal of 2 million tourists.  

Nepal needs the fire engines at least as much as the influx of tourists. The country is woefully unprepared to handle fire disasters. This was best illustrated when during a major incident at a gas bottling plant that claimed the lives of three firemen. This us to add more international firefighting instructors to the expedition.

Six seasoned firefighters are now part of our project. One of the concerns expressed most frequently is that since these vehicles are from America, that they are too big for Nepal’s narrow streets. There are plenty of cities in the northeastern United States with narrow streets. When a fire breaks out there, firemen simply lay interconnecting hoses right up to the burning building.

We will continue to pursue this project. By we, I mean the several dozen celebrities, the four diplomats, six firemen and eight U S Navy SEALs who have been part of this project since Day One. We owe it to the people of Nepal and to those three firemen and their families.

Just last week, a friend of mine who is the co-founder and past treasurer of the SEAL Fund, as it is now called, said to me: “If anyone can pull this off, it’s you, Mike.” I respectfully disagreed and said: “It’s us!”

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