Fire-fighting heroes welcomed

2015-09-01 06:00
Fire-fighters on the Working on Fire programme in Newlands were welcomed back after spending a month in Canada fighting wildfires there.

Fire-fighters on the Working on Fire programme in Newlands were welcomed back after spending a month in Canada fighting wildfires there.

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Newlands firefighters who are part of the Working on Fire programme got a hero’s welcome at the airport as they arrived back from Canada where they have been fighting wildfires since July.

These heroes were part of the South African firefighters who received high praise from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) for their excellent work ethic and teamwork whilst they were part of international wildland fire-fighting teams.

They fought multiple fires in Canada during July and August. Following their month-long work in Canada, CIFFC released positive crew performance reports which lauded, amongst others, the South Africans for their physical fitness, productivity, health and safety and mopping up operations.

The Newlands team was part of 48 crew members from the South African Working on Fire programme. They went to Canada on 21 July as part of a co-operative resource-sharing arrangement between Canadian and South African forest fire-fighting agencies. The first group arrived back in the country on Friday.

The South Africans were initially deployed to Edmonton, Alberta from where they were dispatched to help with fighting wildland fires in the heavily forested Slave Lake area. Once the Slave Lake fire was controlled, a few were redeployed to British Columbia, whilst the other crew members stayed to complete mopping up operations in Alberta.

“The opportunity to work overseas has allowed our crews to experience not only fire-fighting conditions in different fuel types, but also working in very large fire-fighting operations with a greater range of tools and machinery,” says Nceba Ngcobo, the manager in the department of environmental affairs responsible for the Working on Fire programme.

“When they arrived in Canada we knew already that the South African training standards and qualifications were verified against the Canadian, US, Mexican, Australian and New Zealand systems and our training was way up there,” he says.

Edna Molewa, minister of environmental affairs, says the local firefighters have set positive examples for the local and international crews on how to build strong morale and teamwork.

“We are extremely proud of the exemplary manner in which our participants from the Working on Fire programme represented our country with pride and dignity. The Working on Fire programme excels in changing lives, and we are confident that this trip has had a significant impact on the lives of these young men and women who will now be able to learn from this experience and also impact on their other colleagues and families in the programme”, she says.

The South Africans worked alongside international fire-fighting teams from Mexico, the United States and Australia. They were deployed to help Canada once the size and number of wildfires was too much for the available local resources.

Canada has experienced an extremely hot and dry summer, leading to record levels of wildfires. In anticipation of increasing fire-danger weather under future conditions of climate change, the international fire-fighting community has been working together for some years to put exchange and resource-sharing agreements in place. This is the first successful deployment between Canada and South Africa.

“Our crews are excited to be returning back home and once they have spent some time with their families they will go back to work,” says Molewa.

“All of them have expressed their joy at having been able to assist Canada with their wildfires and have described their journey as having changed their perspectives on life in general but they have also learned a lot whilst over there.”

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