The brave Fire and Rescue Service in the Western Cape reflects on another mammoth year!
Western Cape, South Africa (16 August 2022) – While the overall number of incidents remained static year-on-year, the service experienced increases in some incident categories and faced a number of tough challenges, including the devastating blazes at Parliament and in Langa.
The fires – arguably two of the most significant incidents in the past twelve months between July 2021 and June 2022 – were among 14,978 fires responded to by the City’s Fire and Rescue Service.
Fires accounted for just over 66% of all incidents responded to during the period in question – the rest were special service calls, including responses to motor vehicle accidents, medical emergencies, rescues and incidents involving hazardous materials.
An overall comparison year on year shows that the number of incidents was fairly static, with a notable reduction in several categories, including vegetation and informal residential fires.
“The increases in fatalities and formal residential fires are of concern. Five of the incidents over the past year accounted for 20 fatalities. Formal house fires are up by 36%, and while there might be an inclination to point towards increased load-shedding, we do not have enough evidence to confirm such a link. It is an unfortunate reality that negligence and substance abuse continue to be contributing factors. We reiterate our call to communities and homeowners to keep fire safety top of mind at all times and to be hyper-vigilant about the use of flammable materials, cooking devices and other heat sources. It’s also crucial to ensure that your family has an emergency plan and to teach children about what to do in the event of a fire,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
As part of its service level agreement, the Fire and Rescue Service commits to responding to at least 70% of ALL incidents within 14 minutes.
In the third quarter (January – March) of the previous financial year, this indicator was achieved in terms of structural fires, but overall, the response time was within the 14-minute limit in only 63% of incidents.
“The height of summer generally sees an increase in vegetation fires, and let’s not forget the massive fire at Parliament during the third quarter. If a crew from a particular station is called to assist with a major incident, it means a slower response time to local calls, as the nearest available fire crew is further away. Another aspect to consider is that the City’s Fire and Rescue Service provides medical and trauma responses; however, we do not have rescue vehicles at each fire station, given that there are primary emergency medical service providers. Where the Fire and Rescue Service does then respond, it means that it might take the vehicle longer to get to the scene or incident, depending on where they find themselves when the call is received.
“But of course, these are not the only factors that impact our response times. Attacks on firefighters continue unabated. In most instances, vehicles are stoned on route to incidents; fire crews are hindered in the execution of their duties on scene, or, as we saw in Langa earlier this year, fire hoses were cut while staff were working to extinguish the blaze. So, in many instances, fire crews will wait for an enforcement escort before going into areas, which, needless to say, affects their response times,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
The Fire and Rescue Service will spend just over R12 million in this financial year to replace existing fire vehicles, including water tankers and pumps.
In addition, a group of seasonal firefighters will be appointed in time for the warmer months to assist with the increase in vegetation fires synonymous with that time of year – along with aerial firefighting appliances.