Msunduzi firefighters have raised their concern over the arrangement to have three fire stations closed on a rotational basis in order for them to be stationed outside the city’s homeless shelters set up in the fight against Covid-19.
They said because of this arrangement, they are now forced to be in close contact with each other on a continuous basis since they now spend time sitting in the fire engines or fire bakkies for the duration of their shifts.
They also complained of not having any ablution facilities to use.
The firefighters, who asked not to be named, have been tasked to sit outside two of the city’s homeless shelters throughout the lockdown after those living in the shelter set their mattresses alight on several occasions.
The municipality has since instructed fire services to keep a fire engine stationed outside the shelters continuously.
On a four-hour rotational basis the CBD, Oribi and Edendale fire stations provide four or five firemen for shelter duty. During that time, the relevant fire station is closed. Should there be a fire in a specific area, and the firemen from that area are on duty at the shelter, the next closest fire station will respond. Should that fire station be busy, then the next fire station will respond, or the firemen at the shelter will then have to respond.
“That time wastage is costly when fighting a fire. There are fire stations nearby where the homeless shelters have been set up. We can be at our stations and respond to any incidents at the shelters in a few minutes.
“Right now, we are not social distancing as four firefighters are sitting in one fire engine.
“It’s freezing cold at night as winter is setting in and there are no ablution facilities. There’s no thought for us, we’re also human,” said one firefighter.
“To make matters worse, we aren’t screened when we get to work and we were only given two masks and a bottle of hand sanitiser at the start of the lockdown.”
The firefighter said the current practice was a waiting Covid-19 timebomb.
“This entire process is flawed. Should one of the firemen contract the virus, we are all gone. The city will be without firemen. There are no proper sanitation measures for us in place. We have had to take extra precautions in our personal capacity,” said one fireman.
Another firefighter said when a big fire broke out at a house in Northdale, the fire engines from Oribi, on the other side of the city, had to respond. “One of the fire trucks outside the shelter was also pulled from standby to attend to the fire.
“Then why not leave us at our stations and we can respond to more areas? Fire trucks can respond to the shelters if there’s a call,” he said.
The firefighters claimed that their work arrangement was “total and utter abuse” as they were a semi-military based operation and not allowed to strike.
“We have families and babies at home who are placed in danger because we can take the virus home to them.
“We aren’t screened or protected at all at the shelters or at the stations. We can’t risk our lives to perform our service daily and be treated pathetically,” they said.
Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the decision to station firefighters outside the homeless shelters was taken due to the occupation classification and related risk at the shelter.
She said the buildings being used as shelters were not designed for hostel-type occupation, so there was a high risk and fire services needed to be on standby there.
She said firefighters had been issued with the necessary personal protective equipment, however, “there’s a national shortage of some equipment so procuring it on a continuous basis is a challenge”.
Mafumbatha said that everyone on duty had been screened and educated on social distancing.