THOSE VOLUNTEERS WHO FIGHT WILDFIRES
This article by Johan du Preez appeared in the Eikestadnuus newspaper. Photo credit: Andrew Hagen (www.andrewhagen.co.za).
It’s a Saturday afternoon. While others are enjoying the sunny weekend weather at leisure, the standby crew members at the Jonkershoek station near Stellenbosch of the Volunteer Wildfire Services are going through drills checking their gear in the event of a fire call-out.
These dedicated volunteers give their time to safeguard what is important to them against fire – the sensitive biodiversity of the Western Cape.
There is no standard answer to the question why they’ve joined the Volunteer Wildfire Services. “I always wanted to become a fire fighter. This gives me the opportunity to do so,” someone answers. “I heard from friends about their experiences and decided to join,” someone else adds. “It’s about passion, discipline, training, being with like-minded people, even about the adrenaline rush,” comes an impromptu summary from crew leader Peter Wynne.
Broadly spoken, uncontrolled fire can be divided into two groups – structural fires and fires in nature. Whereas municipal fire services mostly attend to structural fires in buildings, Volunteer Wildfire Services’ role is that of wildfire suppression. They operate in bigger Cape Town from their Newlands, Jonkershoek and South Peninsula stations. Working closely with other emergency services in managing fire on land under the control of CapeNature, SANParks and others, Volunteer Wildfire Services has, to date, achieved over 49,000 active firefighting hours between its members.
According to Wynne each fire is different. “Only with training, discipline and teamwork can we take on the challenges that wildfires bring,” he says. “Our training includes, amongst others, wildfire suppression, firefighting equipment, map work, radios, 4 x 4 driving skills, rope work and first aid.
Asked about the public’s opinion on the firefighter’s role after the fires earlier in 2015 that ravaged parts of the Cape Peninsula and Boland, Wynne is adamant that they are not heroes as portrayed in the media. “There are no heroes on the fire line,” he says in a modest way. “We’re only doing what we believe in. And we do it as a team.”
But in my mind those who give their time to serve others, are already heroes. And, if the voluntary work that they do means risking their own lives in order to protect the lives of others, then it certainly is even more valid.
- Volunteer Wildfire Services are currently recruiting for active fire fighters and members who provide support services. For more information, please visit their website http://www.vws.org.za/ or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
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