Memorial service held for late Bill Potgieter, 20 June 1943 – 4 February 2019
A fitting memorial service was held on 13 February 2019 in honour of Bill Potgieter, who’s last position held was as acting chief fire officer City of Johannesburg EMS, now retired. Chief Potgieter passed away on 4 February 2019. Members of City of Johannesburg Emergency Management Services (CoJEMS) formed a guard of honour by the drill platoon and the band including the brass helmet squad led by Antony Kok, station commander and Mike Matlawe, platoon commander with the traditional ringing of the last bell by Paddy Mallet. Potgieter’s coffin arrived on the vintage Johannesburg Fire Brigade’s Dennis 8 driven by Glen Wilken, reserve fire fighter CoJEMS.
The service, which was held at the Alberton Methodist Church, was conducted by Pastor Roy Edwards. A video compilation with portraying photos of Potgieter was played after the scripture reading. “We lost a legend but God gained a hero”, were the poignant words at the end of the video. City of Johannesburg’s divisional commander, Malcolm Midgley, read a brief overview of Potgieter’s career with Johannesburg, which started in 1960.
Said Midgley, “Bill was born during the Second World War on 20 June 1943. The young Bill Potgieter first joined the traffic department in 1960 and transferred to fire department in 1962 during this time there was a lot of streamlining of the department and new innovative ideas were introduced. CFO Cain had just taken over the position from Strathern and then Gammy de Beer, all three very dynamic leaders in their own way, an ideal time for such a young fire fighter. In 1968/9 Bill passed his IFE fire exams and was promoted to officer in 1970 and transferred to central. In 1972 he was promoted to ADO and transferred to Turffontein; then in 1975 as DO he took over the training academy with instructors like Martin van Zyl and Brian Hogan (DCO operations). In 1978 he led a contingent to assist the Salsbury Fire Brigade who had been battling a raging fire in a fuel depot. In 1980 rose to the rank of SDO and then to ACO and in 1988 until his retirement in 1992, DCFO before the ranks and titles were changed. As officer commanding a rescue incident in Swallow Street, Lenasia, he received a commendation from the city and a medal for the rescue of three people in December 1985, where Clive Christie and Sharl Sharp were also involved in the dramatic rescue from a 45m well in a backyard. I, as a station officer from Randburg, had met him, Lofty Gomes and PA Nel (known as Peewee) through my CFO, Nic van Dyk. I saw him for the last time at a burnout in Modderfontein at SAEC’s station 33. Everyone who knew him said that he was strict but fair … a true officer and gentleman… And so Sir, on behalf of the fire brigade, we thank your family for their support during your career and for your service to the City of Johannesburg. An excerpt from the Fireman’s Creed (author unknown)… I have no ambition in this world but one, that is to be a fireman. The position, may in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one but we know the work that a fireman has to do, believe that it is a noble calling… Rest in peace Sir; we’ve got it from here…”
Potgieter’s granddaughter, Stacey Nortje, read an expressive letter written by his daughter, Tania Dyason and Pastor Edwards a letter written by Potgieter’s son, Vaughan Potgieter. Pastor Edwards also read numerous letters written by Potgieter’s grandchildren.
Major incidents that Potgieter responded to include the Westdene Dam tragedy as fire officer in charge while the late Allan Cloete was the ambulance chief officer in charge of the incident.
Potgieter also responded to the 1968 mine rescue incident and the December 1985 Swallow Street incident in Lenasia where people were digging a hole and were overcome by the toxic fumes of a generator. The hole was a narrow shaft and was filling up with water after which they decided to pump the water out using pumps driven by the generator. The generator’s gasses caused the toxic fumes. Potgieter lost consciousness trying to rescue the trapped. The shaft was too narrow to use self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs) and the rescue team had to make use of diving cylinders in order to fit into the shaft.
The traditional reading of the Fireman’s Prayer concluded the ceremony after which the pall bearers carried him through the guard of honour to the Dennis 8 for his ‘Last Ride’, the very same engine that he served on for so many years.
His son, Vaughan, thanked the CoJEMS platoon and squad for their support in paying respect to Chief Potgieter.
The Fire and Rescue International team extend our sincere condolences to Bill Potgieter’s family, colleagues and friends. It is really sad to see our industry stalwarts pass on. In Vaughan’s words, “Deep down he is with us every step of the way.” Rest in Peace, Chief.