'Somebody gave me the light inside' - fireman who survived Groblersdal store explosion

2017-12-15 16:28
PHOTO: Supplied

PHOTO: Supplied

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His job was almost done.

He was just extinguishing what was left of the fire at the storage facility. He didn't anticipate that anything would go wrong.

But the fire station manager from Limpopo almost lost his life in an explosion.

Speaking from his ward at the Netcare Milpark Hospital, Gert van Jaarsveld (44) also known as Gary, says he's grateful to be alive.

Gert, who has 21 years of experience, received a call a community member about the OK Furniture store at Groblersdal was on fire around 6pm on November 30.

"I dispatched the whole fire station by the time I arrived at the scene they were there already," he tells YOU from his hospital bed.

They tried to stop the fire from spreading to the neighbouring buildings.

"At this stage, we needed an extra hose on the line so that it can reach the back storage facility," he recalls.

"I went out and asked one of the guys to add a line so that we can be closer to the other room where there was still fire."

He then needed the pressure on the hose to be increased and his crew member went outside to do that.

In a matter of seconds there was an explosion in front of his eyes while he was waiting, he recalls.

Gert believes that it was the gas cylinders on the compressors of the fridge that reacted to the heat.

He explains that as the gas filled the room and met with oxygen it started to burn the ceiling.

"The smoke and the heat were coming down," he says. "I realised I was burning."

Everything became pitch black and couldn't see a thing. He tried to find his way out but there was furniture obstructing his exit. In the process, he lost his hamlet.

"I couldn't pick it up because it was too hot."

Someone also took his gloves to probably open the door or move the furniture while they were changing the hoses.

He used the back of his hands as he was trying to maneuverer his way out of the store. They're now badly burnt and he may need skin grafting.

"I realise I was going to die because of the heat," he reveals. That's when he said a short prayer. 

"I just stopped and I said, 'Lord please not like this'."

It's in that moment when he said looked up, he saw the light and started walking towards it.

He could hear people speaking and he reached the door and collapsed. He was immediately dragged to the ambulance by the security personnel and community members.

"That's when my face mask pulled against my face as an indication that the oxygen on my back was finished."

He was stabilised at a hospital in Grobersdal before being transferred to Milpark.

Gert's burn wounds on his neck, ears and knees healing very well.

He still can't use his hands and relies on his wife Trudie and nurses to feed and bathe him.

"As a family, we can just thank the community and the Lord and everyone who stood by us in the process."

His near-death experience has taught him he's never alone, he says. Despite the challenges, Gert is proud of the job that his team does in trying to save the people, property and the environment.

"We put our lives in each other's hands. I trust them with my life," he says. "I heard the guys were there until 11 pm that night."

He can't stop thanking God.

"Nobody understands where the light came from... Somebody gave me the light inside," he says.

"It's not somebody it's God," his wife interjects.

Two years ago this father of two was hit by a heart attack and a stroke while on a rescue mission and doctors said there was nothing they could do for him.

"I was hysterical but we prayed for him," Trudie said, adding that he has since recovered fully.

Trudie says she's always praying for her husband before he goes to any job.

"I ask for protection and sometimes I go with him but this one wasn't even a big call," she adds.

Gert can't wait to go back to work. 

"There's still work that need to be done and people who need our assistance," he says.

He admits that some days are scary and risky but he always takes them as a learning curve and he lives by the firemen's prayer.

He says you can't be a firefighter just for a paycheque.

"But it's about passion and the pay cheque is just a bonus."

Read more on:    polokwane  |  good news  |  fires

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