Firefighters ‘sleeping’ while residents left to battle blazes

NO HELP: The burnt contents of Queenstown community policing forum (CPF) chair, Mihle Gogela’s house in Sandringham. It burnt last week and fire-fighters took 30 minutes to arrive on the scene Picture: SUPPLIED

In recent months Komani residents have been frustrated by the fire department’s tardy response to emergency calls.

Residents have reported the truck arriving hours after being called and at times without bringing water.

It seems unlikely that the situation will improve any time soon. According to Enoch Mgijima spokesperson Lonwabo Kowa, fire-fighters are no longer at municipal offices 24/7.

He said the municipality no longer paid overtime to fire-fighters because of the institutions’s financial constraints. They were now being paid to be on standby, first having to come from their homes before they can respond to the emergencies.

“This is due to the municipality’s financial recovery plan aimed at improving the financial status quo. As it stands, overtime work for fire-fighters and other sections was discontinued to decrease the salary bill which the municipality could no longer keep up with. Instead of overtime, a standby allowance is paid to fire-fighters and when an incident is reported, they drive to the municipal office and then to the fire site,” said Kowa.

Queenstown community policing forum (CPF) chair, Mihle Gogela, was the latest victim of a fire that burnt his house recently in Sandringham. Although the house and its contents were completely destroyed, he said it was thanks to the efforts of neighbours and other CPF members that the fire did not spread to neighbouring houses.

Gogela said what troubled him most about the incident was that fire-fighters arrived 30 minutes after being called, when the fire was out. “The first respondents were CPF members and my neighbours. One of our members came with a bakkie full of water to try and help. Fire-fighters came 30 minutes later and if it had not been for the efforts of the CPF and my neighbours there would have been a real catastrophe,” he said.

Late response by fire-fighters has become the norm in the town with residents often left alone to deal with the conflagrations. In November last year, The Rep reported Palmscape resident, John Plaatjies, watched his two dogs and 43 live chickens die in a raging blaze when the brigade did not show up. (Key to fire truck missing, November 13, 2020).

In the incident, Plaatjies’ relayed how he was told keys to the fire truck were not at the station and instead were with a fire-fighter who had gone home. Incidentally, on the same night, fire-fighters could not respond to another fire in Ezibeleni where a church house burnt down, nearly killing two men.

Ire towards the brigade has been further stoked by incidents of fire-fighters arriving without water. In March The Rep reported how fire-fighters were chased away in Aloevale after arriving hours late to the scene without water, (Toddler dies in house fire, March 12, 2021).

In the same week, a toddler was burnt beyond recognition while three other family members barely escaped. Residents were again left to battle those flames.