14th Jul 2020 7:23:25 AM

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Children of Fire Fire Brigades

The charity works with various fire brigades across South Africa, sometimes in an advisory capacity (particularly on public education), sometimes sharing training initiatives and sometimes in a watchdog capacity where the fire brigades are understaffed, underfunded or where management seems to be unaccountable.

In Alexandra township we discovered that one third of the fire hydrants were not working. David Thembe, the operational fire chief for Greater Johannesburg was contacted about the matter, as was Amos Masondo, the Mayor of Johannesburg, but by mid January 2002 they had failed to respond to us about this serious safety issue. The charity has assisted families bereaved in Alexandra fires where the nearest fire hydrant was not working.

Strike Ralegoma, the Johannesburg councillor dealing with public safety and Hillo Maeko, who also has a senior emergency services role, were similarly unresponsive. Johannesburg Disaster Management continues to remain at minimal visibility.

Brixton Fire Brigade
Our longest relationship has been with Brixton Fire Brigade and the associated training facility. Together we have pioneered successful courses in fire safety, shaped particularly for squatter camp needs. Lawrence Boya from Johannesburg Region 4 was kind enough to help get a shack built in the Brixton fire brigade training grounds, to make squatter camp training more realistic.

The fire station has been very helpful in wider public education initiatives, particularly in the Joe Slovo squatter camp. It has lent us personnel and fire tenders to encourage the residents to come and listen to fire safety messages and for the children to practice Stop Drop and Roll, rolling their friends in blankets to put out imaginary flames.

Brixton Fire Brigade willingly goes into the Joe Slovo camp in Coronation to refill the firefighting water tank that we placed there, and following intimidation by a man called David Masilo, the training ground stored ten firefighting water tanks for us until we could find them a new more welcoming destination. Those ten tanks have been shared equally between Alexandra township (Johannesburg Region 7) and Benoni Fire Brigade, for one of their least-well serviced squatter camps.

Brixton, which covers some flats and at least three large squatter camps, is sometimes severely understaffed, seemingly exacerbated by an unwillingness to pay overtime. Men are required to work 24 hour, 36 hour or even longer shifts, which must be totally disruptive for family life. During much of December 2001 there were allegedly only two fire fighters and one engine driver on duty.

Benoni Fire Brigade
Benoni Fire Brigade has some 600,000 people living in squatter camps. We have agreed to co-operate on public safety education and have given them five firefighting water tanks for their area, worth some R25,000.

After many meetings with Jacques Steyn and collegues, the Benoni Brigade - the only private fire fighting service in South Africa - is arranging a golf day to fund raise for the charity in southern-hemisphere Autumn 2002. We will co-operate on preparing safety literature for schools and children that is more appropriate than any that has been produced in South Africa to date. The fire brigade will work with Children of Fire on training programmes for adult fire marshalls in the camps.

Germiston Fire Brigade
A promising start with visits to many Germiston squatter camps has tapered off in January 2002 because the key volunteers who were working in the area have not got enough time available at the moment to take the process forward. Links with John Khoza in public education will be maintained and again assistance will be given to make the school safety brochures more useful, with the right level of vocabulary and drawings that children remember. Many fire brigades have focussed on "cute" characters that children like but the fire safety messages seem to be forgotten too easily unless the information is a little more realistic and hard-hitting.

Cape Town Fire Brigade
Distance precludes regular face to face links with Donald Sparks and his team but email communications continue with a variety of fire stations in the area as well as links with Disaster Management and the part-government-sponsored Ukuvuka initiative. Children of Fire helped with a fire awareness week, hosted for supper each day with the local fire brigade, and is preparing for another similar week in 2002.

Alexandra Fire Brigade
There are a large number of women fire fighters in Alex and an even larger number of female firefighting volunteers, both of which trends are encouraging. However, the staff sometimes seem a little demoralised, particularly as they only have one fire engine and that is not always working.

Newcastle Fire Brigade
Newcastle is remarkably well equipped compared with some of its larger urban counterparts, and has few squatter camp fire problems. Morale seems good among firefighters and they were keen to support children like Oscar if needed.

Brakpan Fire Brigade
Leon Jordaan has approached Children of Fire for help in his area, with 800,000 people living in squatter camps. Combined public education initiatives are likely by southern hemisphere Winter 2002.

There are other links with a variety of fire brigades - watch this space for more updates.

This material is Copyright The Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust and/or Children of Fire , 1998-2020.
Distribution or re-transmission of this material, excluding the Schools' Guide, is expressly forbidden without prior permission of the Trust.
For further information, email firechildren@icon.co.za