Fire dept is ‘burnt out’

2017-03-15 06:03
PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

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CITY firefighters are adamant that their equipment is either in poor condition or not working at all, even though district management has said otherwise.

A recent Witness article reported that Msunduzi’s fire services were in a shambles, but the city refuted the claims saying “everything was in working order”.

Since then, firefighters working in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality, said they were left in a similar position with faulty equipment, lack of staff and a “cover-up” story from management.

District municipality spokesperson Mbali Ndlovu said they had three major pumpers, two medium pumpers and three bakkie pumpers that were all operational.

However, long-serving firefighters in the district said they are still facing “a massive problem” and claimed they had only one working fire engine to serve 1,1 million people.

The uMgungundlovu District fire services reach areas such as Impendle, uMshwathi, Richmond, Mpofane, uMngeni, Ashburton and Camperdown.

A firefighter, who asked not to be named, said the Mpofane fire station was the only station with a fully operational fire engine.

“The rest of the stations respond to fire emergencies using Land Cruisers and Isuzu bakkies that carry a maximum of 500 litres and 750 litres of water, respectively,” he said.

According to a veteran firefighter, who also asked not to be named because they are not allowed to speak to the media, said the water carried by both vehicles was “nowhere near enough to extinguish a basic house fire”.

“In a number of instances, the firefighters had to leave the scene to refill the vehicles, which led to them losing the fire in the end.

“Both these vehicles are intended to respond to minor grass fires and not building fires,” he said.

District firefighters added that most of their equipment is not properly maintained and only gets fixed once it is completely broken.

“But in most cases nothing is done to fix the equipment until after a very long time,” he said.

Firefighters said that one fire engine has been parked for more than eight months, waiting for a mechanic to assess the problem.

“Before it broke down, it was also extremely slow, so we could not respond to emergencies in time,” he said.

He added that the jaws of life that are used to extricate people trapped in crashed vehicles was in such poor condition that it is “almost unusable”.

“The hydraulic power unit is mixing oil and petrol which makes the jaws of life useless,” he said.

When The Witness visited some of the district’s stations, a fire engine was parked off, believed to be the same fire engine awaiting a service.

A firefighter, who has been serving in the district for over 15 years, said there is no proper management structures within the fire department.

He said a number of people in managerial positions have left and their posts have not been filled.

Some firefighters said that some of the recently appointed firefighters were not properly qualified and were unsuitable to be firefighters.

“We have had a firefighter who was terrified of heights and another who was afraid of the sight of blood,” he said.

Ndlovu said there was an approved organogram at uMgungundlovu District Municipality and Fire Services Unit.

“In management there is a chief fire officer, district commander, fire prevention co-ordinator and six station commanders and the training officer and below that there are 21 watch commanders,” Ndlovu said.

Firefighters said they feared the community had lost faith in them because they have not been able to do their job properly and have since lost many buildings to fires.

One of the firefighters referred to a supermarket fire in New Hanover last July.

He said they responded to the fire in a Land Cruiser bakkie which carries a maximum of 500 litres of water.

“When we arrived the building was well-alight and water that we had was insufficient.

“We had to leave the scene to refill and the fire ended up being extinguished by local farmers using their water tankers that the firefighters did not and still don’t have,” he said.

He added that some people told them that they had to take matters into their own hands because the firefighters were useless.

“This does not sit well with us because we are willing to do the work.

“The problem is that we lack proper equipment and manpower,” he said.

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