Blazing ambition takes him to the top

2009-09-05 11:27

EVERY time he pulls somebody from the clutches of death,

firefighter ­Fana Mnguni grows fonder of his job.

“There is nothing I love more than to attend to a fire scene,

whether it is a building or a car, and end up ­saving a person’s life,” says the

­Brixton Fire Station commander.

“But I must confess that it is very traumatic to get to a scene

where a person ends up ­dying.”

Mnguni says he is bugged by firefighters who are reluctant to

utilise trauma counsellors, known as chaplains, for counselling after seeing

someone die.

“Most of us don’t use those services and we think that we are

strong to handle anything that comes our way. But we are not,” Mnguni


His meteoric rise in the firefighting field is attributed to the

­formal qualifications he obtained in 2006. He holds a BTech degree in fire


Mnguni thinks had it not been for the qualification he obtained

from the Tshwane University of Technology, he would still be running around

putting out fires, probably as a junior or senior firefighter.

Mnguni initially wanted to do a Bachelor of Commerce degree, but

his parents couldn’t afford to pay for his tuition fees. “A friend of mine

encouraged me to join him when he submitted a job application to be a

­firefighter,” he says.

More inspiration came when he noticed that the firefighting field

was dominated by whites.

“When I joined firefighting it was just a job, but my passion is

growing each day and it has now developed into a career,” he reveals.

Mnguni, who started his career in 1997, notes that the job entry

requirements have since been overhauled.

“At that time they only required matric with physical science and

maths as well as a driver’s licence or learner’s licence,” he says.

Currently a matriculant needs to have a firefighter one

certificate, ambulance attendant certificate and a hazardous materials awareness

qualification, which equips a firefighter with the skills to identify hazardous


Though maths and science are no longer compulsory matric subjects,

they are needed if firefighters want to further their studies in fire technology

at tertiary institutions.

The candidate should also possess a code 10 driver’s licence.

A glance at Mnguni’s career shows that he cut his teeth at the

Benoni Fire Station.

A year-and-half into his career, he joined vehicle manufacturer

VWSA as a fire prevention officer.

In January 2000, he left the company to ply his trade at the City

of Joburg, where he spent five years.

He was then appointed as a platoon commander at Thokoza Fire

Station, Ekurhuleni, until last year.

His job saw him conducting parades to inspect firefighters’ dress

code, and whether the fire engines and ambulances were in good working


He also had to coordinate the shift of his platoons and inspect and

study buildings in his area.

Last year he moved to Brixton as a station commander.

Mnguni says the first thing he checks in a building engulfed by

fire is the solidness of the structure to guard against it collapsing on the


“We have to assess for cracks and deformity. If there is a crack we

have to assess how bad it is and check what material was used to build the

structure. For instance if a building was erected with steel, it is going to

bend when exposed to fire.”

Structures most likely to be erected with steel include factories

and some types of office buildings.

Firefighters must also be on the lookout for cracks when dealing

with houses built with bricks.

“And in residential houses where the roof is put up using planks,

we have to calculate the amount of time the flames have been burning to guard

against it collapsing,” he says.

While driving to a fire scene, the platoon firefighter has to be

engaged in a process known as a size-up, whereby a fire fighter gathers most of

the information regarding complexities of the fire.

“The information determines if we should start by rescuing the

people or attack the fire,” says Mnguni.

When at the scene, firefighters have to employ the defensive

approach, which requires firefighters to stop the flames from spreading to other

buildings or the offensive approach, where they deal directly with the


Mnguni says his job no longer eats into his social life.

Unlike in the past when firefighters used to work 48 hours a week,

they are now required to work for 40 hours.

Mnguni’s job includes the day-today running of the Brixton Fire

Station and managing the relationship between the station and the public.

“I have to deal with public ­complaints and conduct risk

assessments around Brixton,” he says.

He also has to see to it that there is staff development within the


“Each individual has got a ­subsidised learning developmental plan

and I have to ensure the plan is implemented.”

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