Juggling city fire services

One of the new fire engines purchased by Msunduzi Municipality has allegedly been parked for almost a year waiting for spare components to arrive from America.
One of the new fire engines purchased by Msunduzi Municipality has allegedly been parked for almost a year waiting for spare components to arrive from America.

Pietermaritzburg - The state of Msunduzi’s fire services has been described as “disastrous” amid claims Pietermaritzburg Airport, in particular faces major risks.

Firefighters have claimed that fire engines based at the airport are non-operational and fire engines meant for Oribi and Pelham have to be brought in, and remain on standby, when planes land or take off.

“This means that areas such as Oribi, Pelham and Bisley are left without fire services while all resources are pushed to the airport,” said a fireman.

The fireman said although resources are brought in from the Oribi station, “even those fire engines are problematic”.

“It is like sending one broken truck to cover another broken truck. There were times when the Oribi truck did not start and we had to call Edendale fire services to respond to a fire.

“The turn-around time is much longer and that is not how an essential service is supposed to work,” he said.

Msunduzi acting municipal ­spokesperson Nqobile Madonda declined to comment but invited The Witness to a management meeting at the Pietermaritz Street fire station tomorrow.

The fire fighters claimed they are understaffed and under-equipped to service the entire city and most often resources are “juggled around” to attend to emergencies.

“This is completely unsafe for residents and passengers on planes. If something happens at the airport, engines and staff based in Oribi have to attend to that and God forbid if something happens in the Oribi area at the same time,” he said.

He said the airport has a water tanker based there for emergencies, however that tanker was meant to be based in the CBD to service the city.

The firefighters cannot be named as they are not allowed to speak to the media directly. However they said they were “fed up” with their plight being “covered up”.

The firefighters said their woes began in 2010 when they suffered a salary cut. Initially they would receive double-pay on Sundays and public holidays — however this had been reduced.

“People had their vehicles repossessed and found it hard with the salary cut. Since then, our love for the job reduced and our frustrations increased because we work extra hours with less resources and do not get paid for the hours we work,” said a fireman.

Although the firefighters said they work under “demanding and stressful” circumstances, they wanted the community to rest assured they would not falter in their duties.

“We came into this profession knowing it is our job to save lives. We will continue to service the community as best as we possibly can but we call on our managers to support us when we need them,” said another firefighter, adding that managers needed to raise their concerns with City management.

The firefighters said they were “tired” of facing the public who believe they are inadequate when managers and the city were responsible for the problems.

The firefighters told The Witness that they felt they were being taken advantage of as they are a disciplined service that is not allowed to go on strike and down tools.

“But we are human too. We have families to support. We have to put our lives on the line. Is it fair that we go out without the proper equipment or working vehicles?” he asked.

With South Africa currently in high veld fire season, the firefighters said they did not have the proper equipment to control veld fires.

“Veld fires are the worst. I would rather go into a burning building than a veld fire. When you are in a veld fire, everything is burning around you and you experience fire dehydration and exhaustion. Now imagine going in without the proper tools,” said another firefighter.

• kailene.pillay@witness.co.za

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