Overstrand mayor unveils new Hermanus Fire Station during International Fire Fighters’ Day (IFDD) commemoration
International Fire Fighters’ Day (IFDD) is celebrated annually on 4 May to pay respect to those fire fighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. This year it held special significance for the Overstrand Fire &and Emergency Services, Disaster Management and Security Services as the Overstrand Municipality’s fire brigade celebrated the official opening of the Hermanus Fire Station on the same day. Overstrand Executive Mayor, Dr Annelie Rabie, officially unveiled the second phase of the refurbished fire station and new vehicle hangar in Hermanus. There to celebrate the joyous occasion were members of the Executive Mayoral Committee, officials and other stakeholders including Etienne du Toit, the Deputy Director: Fire and Rescue Services at the Department of Local Government in the Western Cape, Overberg District Municipality Fire Chief Reinhard Geldenhuys and Louise Wessels, manager of the Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association.
Those present were also entertained by a squad drill performance of the fire fighters held before the unveiling of the plaque ceremony.
Proceedings kicked off with a heart-warming welcome by Assistant Fire Chief of Operations and Training, Angelo Aplon. This was followed by an overview of the history of the fire station by Overstrand Fire Chief Lester Smith.
Hermanus, Gansbaai/Stanford and Hangklip-Kleinmond Municipalities officially became Overstrand Municipality in the year 2000, during which the fire services resorted under the Directorate of Community Services. The service consisted of municipal reservists who had municipal jobs and responded as and when needed. Literally, they would drop whatever they were busy with, drive to the station and respond from there.
He said at some point the fire station was also based at the Old Ambulance Station located opposite the Hermanus Primary School. “It was only after the appointment of our current Director of Protection Services, Neville Michaels that fire services started heading towards a more professional service with the appointment of permanent staff members. At that time the service consisted of five permanent officials, contract workers appointed under EPWP and the continuation of the municipal reservist force.”
“Overstrand Fire and Emergency Services, Disaster Management and Security Services has over the years thrived in becoming a professional service, with many of the developments occurring after 2013. We have since transitioned from Fire Department, to Fire and Rescue to what we are now: Fire and Emergency Services, Disaster Management and Security Services. The significance of this final restructuring is that more departments were created, along with the official appointment of officials at a supervisory level, specifically the senior fire fighters, platoon commander and station commanders”.
The Chief Smith pointed out that the fire station building took more than ten years to establish. “The idea to establish a fire station came from the late Executive Mayor Rudolph Smith, who was, like our current executive mayor, very much involved and wanted to understand more about the fire service. It was during one of the Hawston fires that this concept was discussed with him. R6 000 000 was requested (2017-18 Draft Capital Budget) for the entire project however Council decided to split the funds across a three-year financial period.”
Chief Smith added, “During 2018-2019, R2 480 000 was received for the Upgrading of Facilities, which went towards the construction of a vehicle hangar. The funds were rolled over to 2019 – 2020 due to tender processes that were incomplete. The groundbreaking or sod turning ceremony was officially held on these premises in Mussel Street on 29 October 2019. During 2020-2021 another R1 000 000 was allocated for the project and this time for upgrading the facilities and ablution block. Again, due to tender processes, a portion of the funds allocated to the project was rolled over to 2021-2022. Over the two financial years, the Fire Department received R3 480 000.”
Fire Chief Smith sounded a note of optimism at the end of his address by stating that the third, and hopefully final phase of construction and upgrading of facilities is due. “With this we hope to extend our appliance bay and create an office block on the second story with a lecture room, conference room and Incident Command Centre.”
This was followed by a sincere speech by Mayor Rabie with a core message of thankfulness. In her keynote address, Mayor Rabie not only paid tribute to the fire fighters, volunteers and emergency personnel across the Overstrand but to the whole of the Protection Services Directorate. Between 1 January and 3 May 2022, they had attended to 407 incidents; 255 wildfires, 82 automobile related incidents, 52 structural incidents, five hazmat incidents, nine rescues and four social distress calls.
Fire fighting is a tough business and the Mayor thanked Chief Reinhard Geldenhuys of the Overberg District Municipality Fire Department and all other organisations involved for their support in responding to a fire.
She applauded the 58 full time fire fighters of Overstrand Fire and Rescue Services for doing amazing work. The Mayor said fire fighting is not a job that is appreciated but it is needed. Fire is an equalising force and it does not ask for your rank or financial status; it can destroy a mansion as well as a wooden structure in the blink of an eye; day or night.
She advised everyone to always have a pre-packed grab bag with essentials at hand as it is hard to think clearly when you're told to evacuate in case of a fire.
“Thank you for putting your lives at risk to help others. Stay safe and stay strong,” Mayor Rabie said.
The day was concluded with the reading of the Fireman's Prayer, followed by the Ringing of the Bell ceremony to honour and respect those who had passed. The farewell was tinged with sadness, as all fire fighters gave a final salute to two of Overstrand’s fire fighters, Herald Jacobs, who lost his life while battling a fire in 2011, as well as Zolile Bosi, who died from COVID-related issues in 2020.
Source: Riana Steenekamp, media liaison and social media officer, Overstrand Municipality