a fire at Mahomedy's Store in Berea Road. The date of
the incident is so far unknown.
Click to view enlargement.
courtesy eThekwini Fire Brigade.
if there is such a word, must really be a lot of fire bugs
because our fire brigade is the busiest in the country.
serious for a moment, I spoke to Fire Chief Mark Te Water
during a recent visit to the central fire station in Centenary
Road, and he explained that we live in an area with a relatively
high concentration of risk, leading to the high number of
brigade call outs.
area encompasses the port, two airports, oil refineries, a
large industrial sector, a large rural area with plenty of
potential for grass fires , and an extensive network of roads
which carry heavy local traffic and that moving between the
port and the Witwatersrand.
much activity it is inevitable that things will go wrong such
as the odd explosion, dangerous chemical spills, fires that
start and need to be put out, vehicles that crash and whose
occupants need to be cut free from the tangled wreckage. Then
you get people who fall down cliffs and need to be rescued
and cats and small boys who get stuck in trees.
recent comparative figures come from 2005, when the eThekwini
Fire Brigade was called out a total of 8672 times, the Cape
Town brigade 4794 times, the Tshwane brigade 4794 times and
the Johannesburg brigade only 2054 times.
to Chief Te Water, predicting when calls will come can be
difficult and so the brigade trains to respond instantly when
one does. Calls are received at the emergency communications
centre in Jelf Taylor Road where operators type the details
into a computer and assign the call to one of the 19 fire
stations in the metro area.
thing the fire fighters on duty hear is a bell which means
that they have to drop everything and pick up a computer print-out
with details of the incident, including the address, on the
way to their vehicles. During the day, vehicles must be mobile
within 30 seconds of the receipt of the call but, at night,
they have a whole minute to get moving.
the officer in charge will confirm receipt of the message
by radio and, very importantly, that he has the correct destination
on his print-out. On arrival at the scene, the officer will
assess the situation and notify control whether he will need
extra personnel or equipment to assist with the incident.
situation is serious, the controllers will dispatch more personnel
and units to the scene until the officer in the officer in
charge sends a stop message saying, in effect, that everything
is under control. The officer will be conscious that resources
he's using may be needed elsewhere at any moment, so he will
try and release vehicles and personnel from at the scene as
soon as they are no longer needed.
brigade has 19 fire stations, as I've already said, and a
fleet of some 200 vehicles including 30 fire engines, or rescue
pumps, as I've now found out they should be called. There
are also seven water carriers, four aerial platforms, a foam
tender, two breathing apparatus tenders, a salvage and lighting
unit, a chemical incident unit, a rescue tender and an incident
impressive vehicle I saw on my visit to the fire station was
a mighty Freightliner water tanker which can carry 32000 litres
of water; that's 32 tons by the way. It also carries two portable
dams and can dump its load into them, through quick-release
valves, to be used by other brigade units, while it goes to
pick up more water.
admit to being surprised to hear that we only have around
455 fire fighters to cope with the number of callouts received.
Chief Te Water estimates that the brigade is about 30% undermanned,
or whatever the correct word is, now that the brigade has
30 women fire fighters on strength.
of personnel has made some adjustments necessary, including
the reduction in the crewing of some fire stations and a reduction
in the number of crew on each vehicle. The major fire stations
have rescue pumps stationed there permanently but stations
in low-risk areas may only have water carriers, equipped with
small mobile pumps, to cope with minor incidents.
something like R25000 to kit out a fire fighter with a helmet
and visor, flash hood, tunic, puncture-resistant gloves, boots
which are heat-resistant and protect the foot from sharp objects,
and four-layer bunker trousers. The total amount doesn't include
the breathing apparatus which the fire fighter will need to
be able to work in smoky environments.
are given a three-month intensive course in fire-fighting
techniques and a three-week course in emergency medical care,
before they can go on duty. Advances in fire fighting and
rescue technique and equipment means that there is a lot for
recruits to learn; far more in Chief Te Water's estimation,
than in his own day.
fire fighter works a 42-hour week in four shifts, two days
and two nights, and then has four days off. It's a strenuous
life, including regular session in gym, but the brigade has
no trouble attracting recruits with hundreds, if not thousands,
of applications for each available place.
has had organised fire fighting units since 1870, when William
Palmer, a banker and agent for the Royal Insurance Company
in Natal, donated a fire engine to the town on condition that
it gave priority to the buildings insured by his company.
Members of the Durban Volunteer Artillery Corps manned the
machine at first and, in 1877, fire hydrants were erected
at points around town.
the Borough Police (now Metro Police) were given responsibility
for fire fighting in the town. A volunteer unit was formed
by a group of railway employees and another by a group of
Mr Morgan, formerly of the Johannesburg Fire Brigade, was
appointed Captain of the Corporation's brigade in 1898. On
strength at the time was one regular fireman and 10 police
firemen who were stationed at the main police station in Pine
succeeded Morgan as Firemaster in 1902 and work began that
year on a Fire Station in Pine Street, which cost £14438,
and was described as 'the most imposing on the sub-continent'.
The corporation's brigade absorbed the others in 1902 and,
by 1904, Durban had 26 full-time firemen, 20 auxiliaries,
and a recruit on probation was earning £11 per month.
on 22nd June, there was an awful tragedy when a rescue demonstration,
put on at Lords Ground to raise money for an ambulance for
the town, went horribly wrong when the fire engine didn't
arrive in time.
Three young boys, who included Lambeth's two sons and that
of his deputy William Scott, were to be rescued from a burning
structure during the demonstration, but died in the fire,
along with volunteer fire fighter David Williams.
chipped in with donations and the ambulance was acquired and
stationed at the fire station, where it was available, free
of charge, to pick up accident victims or people taken ill
in the streets. The first petrol-driven fire engine was delivered
to the brigade in 1911 although horse-drawn ones served until
early fire engine outside the fire station in Point
Road. The date is unknown but it would be after 1911,
when the first petrol fire engine was delivered to the
Click to view enlargement.
courtesy eThekwini Fire Brigade.
early days of fire fighting in Durban, the firemen worked
a continuous shift of nine days with one day off. It was noted,
even though there were married quarters attached to the fire
station, that family life did not flourish and, thankfully,
the system of alternating day and night shifts was introduced
is, of course, largely occupied with actual fire fighting
and rescue, but they are also involved in fire safety through
the enforcement of fire regulations, conducting investigations
into the causes of fires and consulting with architects and
the building industry on safer buildings.
is a cause close to Chief Te Water's heart and he believes
that educating people on fire prevention can help reduce the
burden on the brigade. The simple fact is that fire can only
happen where there is an ignition source and fuel to burn;
keep the two separate, and there can be no fire.