Like many volunteer organisations, the Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS) was hard hit by the restrictions during lockdown.
The unit’s recruitment and training season, which runs from May to October, is a critical time for signing up new members for training as firefighters, and for requalifying all existing members, in preparation for the next fire season, which starts in November.
The lockdown restrictions made it impossible to recruit new members, and training of existing members only become possible under lockdown level 2, which meant that six months of training activities had to be squeezed into just two months.
Even though the restriction on gatherings made it possible to convene training events under level 2, the curfew of 10pm made it impossible to conduct weekday night training sessions, and since most VWS members have day jobs, or are students, many of the unit’s deployments are at night, so it makes sense to train at night.
Once the unit was granted a waiver of the curfew for purposes of training activities, training got under way in earnest at the beginning of September.
A scaled down programme of five hikes and two major fire simulation scenarios is under way, which will provide sufficient opportunity for all existing members to requalify for the coming fire season.
But aside from hikes and scenarios, a number of of evening lectures are planned, and like so many organisations, the VWS is making use of virtual classroom technology for such events.
The unit has appointed a Covid-19 committee, which was tasked with drafting standard operating procedures for every aspect of the VWS’s activities, be it training or operational deployment, much of which has been tested during training events.
Strict guidelines are in place for all activities, including Covid-19 pre-screening at the time of signing up for in-person training events, screening upon arrival at events, sanitisation and social distancing during events and vehicular transportation, and sanitisation of all equipment, vehicles, and base facilities after each activity.
Formal skills evaluations will take place during the final week of October, along with the international firefighter’s work capacity test, in preparation for the commencement of fire season on November 1.
Norman McFarlane is the training manager for Volunteer Wildfire Services’ Jonkershoek (Delvera) and Grabouw (Helderberg Nature Reserve) firebases.