Firemen warn of fleet crisis

2015-12-22 12:41
One of the older trucks, allegedly being used as a spare whilst the new trucks wait to be repaired, sits broken and unused at Edendale Fire Station.

One of the older trucks, allegedly being used as a spare whilst the new trucks wait to be repaired, sits broken and unused at Edendale Fire Station. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - The Pietermaritzburg fire department is operating at a “minimal level of cover” due to mechanical ­problems with several vehicles.

City firemen have warned that the situation is untenable in the current hot and dry conditions, and that they would be unable to effectively fight a major fire.

While two of the department’s new fire trucks are awaiting repairs, spare trucks with “faulty brakes” and ­“inadequate” equipment are being used to fight fires across the city.

Firemen have lashed out, saying that they are unable to work properly due to delays, mechanical problems and a lack of fully operational fire trucks in the city.

The firefighters would not be named for fear of losing their jobs.

One said the majority of the city’s fleet was not fully functional.

“The light pump is broken, and there is not a single engine in the CBD station that is working at 100% ­capacity.

“Some of the engines’ brakes are not really working and they are actually a hazard on the road,” said the source.

He said the station had recently bought an American machine that cost “three times more” than a truck from a local company would have cost.

“These trucks are difficult to ­maintain as parts must be imported from the U.S. If there is a huge incident, the equipment we have will be ­inadequate to deal with it.”

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said it was “true” that the fire service was “experiencing a temporary situation”.

“This is due to various mechanical failures and another high-rise vehicle has minor road accident damage,” she said.

Madonda said some engines were waiting for spare parts that had to be ordered from the U.S. “by specialised agent suppliers”.

She said the city was using its spare trucks to “maintain a minimal level of cover”.

“The situation created by the failure of those two major units has not ­jeopardised the safety of citizens ­within the city, but has rather stretched our resources,” said Madonda.

She said any repairs required could be delayed due to suppliers shutting down for the end of the year.

However, firemen dismissed the city’s claim that there was no crisis as “utter nonsense”, saying they were concerned that they would be ­powerless to act should there be a massive factory fire.

“The stations are fully staffed with people who are all skilled and able to fight fires, but without the means to do so,” said a source.

The fireman said the department had had to put out a grass fire that was “well alight” using just a light pump, which carries 700 litres of water, ­instead of a truck that carries 3 000 litres of water, and that the blaze caused more damage than it should have as it took much longer to put out.

“We just want to do our jobs, but with all the broken equipment, we are unable to do so.”

Other firemen said they found it ­“almost impossible” to carry out their duties when most of the equipment was breaking and out of service.

The Southern African Emergency Services Institute (SAESI) said ­although there were rumours of a ­nationwide shortage of fire engines, they could not comment on the issue.

“The acquisition of fire fighting equipment is a monetary issue for the financial departments and MECs of each local authority according to their needs and budget,” said an institute ­official who would not be named.

“There are limited suppliers of fire trucks in South Africa with obligations to international clients as well, which can result in waiting lists for delivery.

“Equipment is also quite expensive. Although firefighters might voice their dissent with regards to shortages of fire trucks and equipment impeding on their ability to provide a good service to the community, one must always view both sides of the issue for the whole story,” said the official.

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