It takes a special kind of person to hike towards a fire without getting paid.
With these words Wayne van den Heuvel, station manager of Volunteer Wildfire Services’ Jonkershoek base, officially welcomed 23 new recruits to the VWS Jonkershoek team at an induction ceremony on Saturday.
These new members – of which the youngest is 19 and the oldest 50 – include Stellenbosch University (SU) students, SU employees, engineers, web developers, plumbers and entrepreneurs.
The new recruits, as well as all active members, underwent training during the winter months, and everyone had to pass skills and fitness evaluations to qualify or requalify for the fire season.
Representatives from Cape Winelands District Municipality, Stellenbosch Municipality, CapeNature and the Winelands Fire Protection Association also attended the induction ceremony.
Tony Marshall from CapeNature said it is a privilege to work with VWS as an organisation, and said he admires the discipline and dedication of VWS members.
“We appreciate the fact that we have a source of people we can rely on to assist us in our efforts to protect our mountains,” he added.
Although official standby duty only started this weekend, some of the new recruits have already responded to fire calls.
What stood out for Oliver Freyer, 24, a b iochemistry student at SU, was how hot and smoky the flames really were.
“It’s not like a braai! Fighting the fire was tricky and tough, but came with a very rewarding feeling afterwards. The support from local farmers and the public was a highlight as well.
“To join the VWS was one of the best decisions I made this year. The selfless commitment to help is phenomenal. I’m enjoying every bit and am definitely ready for the fire season.”
Hermanus Henning, 31, a coastal engineer, joined VWS for various reasons, including to learn valuable life skills, work in a team, contribute positively to society and get the opportunity to spend time in the mountains.
However, after responding to his first fires his motivation has expanded beyond superficial reasons.
“The feeling of being on the fire line cannot be explained, it can only be experienced. Being directly involved with the recent Banhoek fire has sparked a sense of appreciation and urgency in me.
“Our dependence on nature and our involvement in our own survival are overlooked by many, but it becomes real on the line. The importance of teamwork as well as the dependence on and trust in others are exponentially magnified when fighting a fire and these factors unify people like nothing else.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of the unit – a unit of smart, dedicated, professional, efficient and driven people and I’m as prepared as I can be for fire season,” he said.
VWS crews will be on standby every weekend until the end of April. Follow VWS on Facebook