'We just want some compassion': Firefighters say they were not given food while battling Parly blaze

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  • Several firefighters claim they were not given food and water while putting out the flames that engulfed Parliament.
  • They say they are saddened about the treatment they received. 
  • The City of Cape Town says the firefighters were given water, food, energy bars and fruit by members of the public and City.

Several firefighters, who were part of a large crew dispatched to douse the flames that engulfed Parliament, claim they were not given food while on duty.  

They worked on Sunday morning when the fire first broke out and Monday evening when the flames reignited.

Speaking to News24, the firefighters, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said whenever there was a massive fire, they were first on the scene.

READ | Early signs suggest valuable historical artefacts survived Parliament fire

"These past few days of putting out the fire have been hectic. You'd think we'd be shown a little bit of compassion considering we've been pulling long hours away from our families as the year kicks off," said one.  

The firefighters added they were supposed to get refreshments every four hours during big fires, but that hardly ever happened.

One said they were given what was called a "rat pack" which contained 500ml water, corn beef, biscuits, a fruit bar, and one energy drink mix.  

Firefighters take a break on the steps of the National Assembly during the menacing blaze.

"I don't think people understand the amount of pressure and heat we are put under when we are out battling these flames, you can't make this up.

"I still have deep scars from the blazes that engulfed the mountains in Disa Park, Vredehoek. No officials have asked us if we are okay. We are just expected to be ready to put out the next flame."  

According to the firemen, only a fraction of the 70 firefighters, who worked to contain the flames, received food and water.

A firefighter known only as "Boeta Joe" said the job was his passion, adding it saddened him every time there was a big fire because they were being treated unfairly.


"We are outraged and deeply saddened by this treatment. On Monday evening, we were dispatched again to Parliament after the fires flared up; it took us probably close to midnight to contain the fire completely. Even then, we had very little access to food and water," he added.  

Another fireman said they only wanted to be treated with respect.

"If the Parliament fires did not make the department see us as essential workers and realise how important our line of work is, then I really don't know what will.

Firefighters battling the blaze at Parliament. (Image: Parliament)

"Just a bit of compassion, necessary food and water is what we asking when putting our lives at risk here."  

Asked whether they have raised their concerns with management, the firefighters said they had but their concerns had fallen on deaf ears.  

WATCH | Drone footage shows extent of devastating fire that ripped through Parliament

The mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said each firefighter was issued with a 2l hydration pack and cooler boxes.

"Bottled water is always readily available, as well as access to snacks should they need it."

He added they also received donations on Sunday and Monday.

"The City's firefighters are rotated on a regular basis during big incidents. During such rotations, staff returns to the fire stations where they can eat and freshen up. 

Firefighters respond to the Parliament fire.

"Staff who chooses to stay on beyond their rotation is provided with food by the fire service, which is often augmented by donations from the public.

"One of the positive aspects of our city that seems to be encoded in its culture is that with any crisis or disaster, members of the public will soon show up to volunteer their time, money or donations to assist the frontline emergency staff and victims that are involved, and this was also the case with the fire at Parliament," said Smith.

The firefighters refuted this.

"In most cases, these fires are unforeseen. We must be in the heart of the heat or the smoke for hours on end before we even see a bottle of water," said one, adding:

I remember there were a few occasions where I had to pour some water from the hosepipe onto my gloves and slurp it into my mouth for some dehydration. It's really bad.

The firefighters' accounts were backed up by Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille who told News24 she was at Parliament on Monday at around 22:00.

"More than one firefighter approached me saying they are hungry and haven't received any meals yet. I then personally provided a meal to 90 firefighters who worked tirelessly to douse the fire at Parliament," added De Lille.

Archie Hearne of the SA Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) in the Western Cape said it was aware of the allegations made by the firefighters. 

"Samwu is aware of the allegations the firefighters are making against the City with regards to them being deprived of the basic food and water during these times and for not being relieved every four hours for a break.

"We will be bringing forth our list of demands for our mutual interest dispute on 26 January at the South African local Government Bargaining Council arbitration proceedings against the City of Cape Town," added Hearne.

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