Wannabe Cape Town firefighters keen to show assessors flames

2018-07-26 08:10
Ashley Matthews waits his turn to show his mettle in the physical assessment. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Ashley Matthews waits his turn to show his mettle in the physical assessment. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Shop assistants, delivery vehicle drivers and typists are among the hopefuls who are bringing the heat as they swap their work uniforms for training gear to prove they have what it takes to join the ranks of the City of Cape Town's seasonal firefighting crew.

About 1 500 applicants are flocking to the Old Abattoir in Maitland for the physical assessments, but only 120 recruits will make the cut. This leg of the recruitment process ends on Friday.

Getting the nod toward being one step closer to wearing the coveted uniform does not come easy.

Candidates are put through their paces in a timed 2.4km run, followed by a 1.9-metre reach test, 30 push ups and 30 sit ups (within 60 seconds per exercise), and lugging two 25kg dead loads over 100m.

Those left standing will then complete a comprehension and basic maths test before undergoing a medical assessment and drug screening.

Peak fire period

Seasonal firefighters are employed on a six-month contract and assist with the increase in wild fires during the summer months.

Fire services spokesperson Theo Layne said the recruits would bolster firefighter numbers during the busiest season.

The peak fire period is between December and January - the hottest and windiest months - and the conditions result in runaway fires, he explained.

"On a daily basis we can have between 120 and 140 vegetation fires alone," he said.

The successful candidates will take part in a four-week wildland firefighting course where recruits are taught the basics of combating vegetation fires, the different types of equipment used for this task, as well as the specific roles and functions of each staff member when responding to a vegetation fire.

Firefighting. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Aspiring firefighter Lwando Mabandla waits his turn. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

They will report for duty on December 1 until and continue until the end of April next year.

Wearing the yellow fire helmet has been a childhood dream for Ashley Matthews from Zonnebloem.

He is ready to swap his computer and job as a data capturer and administrator for a fire hose, Matthews, 35, said.

"I have an 8-month-old baby who will one day be proud to say daddy is a firefighter. I know I can do this. I trained by running and carrying around cans of water during the drought," he quipped.

Matthews said he may be slightly built, but he has the physical strength to put people half his age to shame.

Firefighting. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Vuyokazi Mateta says she wants to prove firefighting isn’t only a man’s job. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

'Ready to save lives'

Stretching while he waited in line to start the physical assessment, Lwando Mabandla, 26, from Khayelitsha believed he had what it took to make it to the next round.

"I am ready to save lives," he said, shaking loose his muscles.

"I have a passion for this thing. I enjoy working under pressure and always wanted to wear that uniform - not only to attract the ladies," the unemployed former shop assistant joked.

Mabandla liked the idea of doing physical work and his fitness should make the job a breeze, he insisted.

"I also need to earn an income. We are six people in our household and only my mother works. I need to contribute because she is a contract employee and her term comes to an end soon."

Firefighting. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Itumeleng Magwedla lugs two 25kg dead loads. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Barely breaking a sweat after completing her sit-ups, Vuyokazi Mateta from Mfuleni is ready to prove firefighting isn't only for men.

Last year, she was eliminated before the physical assessment because her required documents had not been certified.

"But I came back. This is my dream - fighting fires and saving lives. I want to be that hero," the netball coach said.

"This morning, I woke up at 02:15 to train. I told myself that I would do this, and I asked God to please help me. I really want this job."

Firefighting. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Female participants have to complete a 2.4km run within 12 minutes to qualify for the next leg of the physical assessment. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

This first step of the application process wasn't too difficult, Mateta maintained, although she struggled with the push ups because she had never done it before.

"But I am enjoying this. I love the physical aspect and I am very fit."

Mayoral Committee Member for Safety, Security and Social Services JP Smith encouraged the participants from the side-lines on Wednesday.

"This is the standard physical assessment for anyone applying for an operational position within the Safety and Security Directorate and it is no walk in the park," he said.

"Testament to this is the fact that only a few hundred applicants will be left standing by the time the physical trials conclude. Fighting wildfires is a physically demanding task and often requires many hours on the front line, so this physical assessment is a key element in the recruitment process."

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