A diver has to take a break for about three hours after working under water for an hour.
But the members of the fire service diving unit, which rescues accident victims, get a break for only 20 to 30 minutes.
Abul Khayer, team leader of divers of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said they endure the workload as they cannot just sit back and watch people crying for help to find out their missing relatives.
"We are suffering from a shortage of manpower. That's why we have to shoulder the extra burden to continue rescue operations," Khayer told The Daily Star. He has won several awards, including the prime minister's award for showing courage during rescue operations.
According to officials, the fire service diving unit had started its journey in 1990 with only 25 divers. It has sent many letters to the home ministry over the years, requesting an increase in the number of divers.
In the last letter sent in 2018, the fire service requested the ministry to appoint at least 215 new divers.
In response, the government has appointed only 25 divers in the last two years, said Md Abdul Halim, assistant director (operation) of fire service.
After completing a year's primary training, a newly recruited diver has to undergo a professional training for another year, he added.
He said the 25 new divers have joined work, but they are not allowed to go in deep water as they are yet to complete their professional training.
"The number of divers has now gone up to 50, but they are frequently called for conducting rescue operations. We often face serious problems when three to four incidents happen within a very short time. In such a situation, we need to deploy divers by distributing the work."
For this reason, the divers are often overburdened with work, Halim told this newspaper.
Although the number of divers did not increase significantly over the years, the number of water vessels has gone up rapidly every year.
The Department of Shipping data shows that the number of registered water vessels was 9,367 in 2013. The figure went up to 12,959 last year.
ACCIDENTS IN WATERWAYS
According to data of the shipping department, at least 3,654 people were killed, 516 injured, and 489 went missing in 570 accidents in the country's inland waterways from 1991 to 2019.
In the latest accident on Monday, 34 people died after a launch named Morning Bird capsized in the Buriganga in the capital's Sadarghat area. The vessel sank in the river after being hit by another one named Moyur-2. Officials said 33 divers, including 11 from the fire service, joined the rescue operation.
Abdul Halim, fire service assistant director, said their divers are supposed to carry out operations in shallow waters and help rescue people as first responders.
"But our divers have to go deep-water diving. Besides, they also work to salvage sunken vessels," he said.
Data compiled by the fire service control room shows that its diving unit has attended around 2,701 waterways incidents and recovered around 2,101 bodies from January 2015 to December 2019.
Analysing the data, it was found that the highest number of incidents were reported last year. The fire service diving unit attended 820 incidents alone in that year and recovered 668 bodies.
Khayer, who has been working as a diver for 30 years, said although their manpower has increased recently, but it is still inadequate. Besides, they also need some modern equipment to carry out rescue operations smoothly.
'FOUR DIVERS FOR EACH DISTRICT'
According to officials, the fire service now has 20 divers in Dhaka division, nine in Chattogram, six in Mymensingh, six in Sylhet, and three divers each in Rajshahi, Barishal, and Khulna divisions.
Brig Gen Sazzad Hussain, director general of fire service, said they were trying their best to address the manpower crisis in the diving unit.
"We had asked for four divers in each district to ensure smooth rescue operations. But the home ministry appointed only three divers in each division which is quite inadequate," he told The Daily Star.
He said they have written to the ministry again regarding the issue.
Mallick Sayeed Mahbub, joint secretary (fire wing) of the home ministry's Security Services Division, yesterday said they were yet to receive any letter from the fire service regarding shortage of divers.