Fighting blazes in Cape Town
Showing strength and fighting blazes is all in a day’s work for City of Cape Town fire fighter, Cindy Theron. Theron is stationed at the Wynberg Fire Station. Growing up, she said female fire fighters were not heard of and it was calling for her. “I always wanted to become an air hostess. My mother encouraged me to apply and when I saw what the service was about my passion grew from there. “I feel women bring diversity to fire services and I'm proud of myself for coming so far in this traditionally male-dominated profession,” said Theron. To build her strength and durability she does cardio exercise every day. The mother of two tries to balance her work and family life. “My family has adapted to my long shifts and understand the time spent away from them. “When I'm off we make the most of the family time,” said Theron. She trained for about nine months whereby she was taught fire fighting, first aid, vehicle extrication, hazardous material awareness. She said although she went through all of that, training is continuous throughout the career of a fire fighter. Theron said while fire fighters show a lot of braveness, over the past couple of years they have become very cautious when going on calls because of recent attacks. They now have to worry about fighting blazes and keeping themselves safe from robberies and attacks.
“My training was strenuous but also motivated me to be more physically fit. It was also a great experience being part of a big female group of recruits. Which was a first for the service then,” said Theron.
She is glad that she is able to be a role model for young girls and women by them being able to see a female fire fighter on the ground. “Women and girls realise that they can do this too. Also realising how far I've come in the 20 years since my rookie days and attaining the rank of an officer (platoon commander) in the service. A career in the fire service can be very exciting. Yes, the job can be physically demanding but it’s not just about being strong. It's also about endurance and getting your hands dirty,” said Theron.
While she fights an array of blazes, scenes involving children is particularly hard for her because fire fighters witness families losing loved ones. However, through the years she has taught herself not to carry what she sees on the job despite it being a challenge at times.
“No two shifts are the same. We work 24 hours followed by 48 hours off. We can be called out to different types of calls like bush and structural fires, motor vehicle accidents, medical emergencies and hazardous material incidents. When we not at calls we do training, lectures and physical fitness at the station,” said Theron.
Often fire fighters spend hours at a scene fighting blazes and damping down without having time to eat, she said the community sometimes come to their aid and the support is overwhelming.
What she likes the most is being able to make a difference by helping the community.
Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson for the City’s fire service, said his spark for this profession started way back when he used to watch a TV show. It took him a few years before he was sure that this was where he wanted to be. In 1997, he started in the Air Force and did basic military training before joining the service. He worked his way up the ranks at various stations while studying further. He might be leaving his spokesperson position for a higher rank within the service.
Recalling his first-ever call which was just after training on a Sunday morning in 2000 when he was stationed at the Mitchells Plain Fire Station. He felt the adrenaline pumping. “We were busy cleaning the officers’ quarters when the alarm/bells were activated. I can still feel the sheer rush from that moment and we responded to a vegetation fire on the corner of Highlands and Eisleben roads. I was so excited I wanted to run out a fog jet from the fire engine but the officer in charge advised me to get a bush beater and a spade to extinguish the fire” said Carelse.
An incident that has stayed with him was in 2017 when the Overstrand Municipality declared a Code Red. This is when one municipality requires assistance from another municipality to fight a fire. “I remember we responded just before 7am and the fire was in Betty’s Bay close to houses. I was in charge of a large contingent of resources. “I met up with their officer and his major concern was that the fire was spreading towards the holiday houses that were built on the fringe of the tree-line. “The wind was extremely strong that night,” said Carelse.
He said he could see that no amount of water could stop the fire, “So I gathered my troops and told them that there was no way we were going to lose any property and we were going to give it our all. “I lined up all the vehicles in single file with a hydrant allowing some constant supply of water because that is what we needed. “We ran hoses through the properties at the back near to the tree-lines.” He planned to divert the fire away from the properties and into an adjacent thick vegetation area where there was no danger to life or property. “Our efforts and sheer courage and determination ensured that the goal was met: The fire was diverted away from all the houses. That evening we saved 10 properties. Those men and women who stood resolute and executed my plan perfectly, when the flames were about 10m high fanned by a strong south-easterly, are the type of fire fighters that I go into battle with every day,” said Carelse.
His advice to some who want to join the service is to know that this is unlike any other profession. “This is not a job for everyone, you must be willing to sacrifice and keep communities’ interests at heart. You will work in a multi-cultural environment with diverse people on a regular basis. Your mental and physical capacity will be tested,” said Carelse.
Source: Weekend Argus