City firefighters prep for a tough summer

The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service is gearing up for an increase in wildfires fanned by strong winds that have become a common feature during summer. Over and above the regular daily demands on firefighters, Cape Town experiences anywhere between 6 000 and 9 000 vegetation fires during the warmer months.

To ensure readiness for this period and the safety of residents the Fire and Rescue Service employs 120 seasonal firefighters who are currently finalising their training. The seasonal staff members are specifically trained to fight wildfires and will complement the efforts of the City’s more than 800 professional firefighters. A minimum of 240 firefighters are on duty per 24-hour shift at the City’s 30 fire stations across Cape Town. 

In terms of equipment, the City is acquiring a number of new vehicles, including four vacuum tankers, five rescue vehicles, and two fire engines, having already taken delivery of 14 skid units, and services of two helicopters and a spotter plane will be acquired from Friday December 1. 

While fire prevention is the top priority to this end, the Fire and Rescue Service is increasing its education and awareness campaigns around fire safety in the home, at work, and in public spaces. Where fires do occur, the service has started implementing a number of initiatives to mitigate the use of potable water for firefighting efforts.

The service has five compressed air foam system vehicles that use a foam/water concentrate mix to limit the use of potable water. Wherever possible, these vehicles are being dispatched first to contain fires.

Firefighting is becoming more labour-intensive, with the use of bear beaters, rakes and other equipment to cordon off the areas around veld fires as part of containing them. A study is under way to determine whether treated effluent could potentially be used without any detrimental effects to personnel and firefighting equipment.

For vegetation fires, the helicopters contracted for the summer season will use sea water – as far as possible – to fight fires in areas that are inaccessible to firefighters

On the ground, greater emphasis will be placed on perimeter firefighting and monitoring.

All alternative water sources – rivers, dams, vleis ) have been mapped and the service is looking at access points at these sources to extract water during emergency operations.

Water storage tanks (JoJo) have been installed at all fire stations across the metropole to harvest rain water and minimise the use of potable water

As a last resort, the service will use sea water in its vehicles for firefighting purposes, although this is not recommended as it could corrode equipment

Life and property will always remain the top priority and if it is necessary to use drinking water to extinguish a fire, this will happen without hesitation. The public is encouraged to assist by ensuring that they do their bit to prevent fires or mitigate the spread of fires where they do occur, according to mayoral committee member for safety and security and social services JP Smith.