Fire fighters deal with more than just fires

Christine Adams, Fish Hoek

I am very much hoping that this letter reaches the right hands because I truly believe this is a real community issue of severe importance.

For the past couple of years I have been partnered with a brilliant man who also happens to do brilliant things for the community through his line of work as a firefighter.

I haven’t ever believed that he is paid appropriately, but I am a realist and I do understand that this is the case in most places of work. But this court case that has been going back and fourth between the firefighters and the City of Cape Town is so much more than wanting a raise.

My partner, like all other firefighters, works an average of about three 24- hour shifts a week – that is about 72 hours.

For most of us, our overtime rate is more than our general rate, but for the firefighters this is less – they get a standby allowance, which is, in my opinion, pathetic. They are not on standby, they are not allowed to leave to get food, they are under restrictions and just the mere fact that you are not allowed to leave does not justify standby.

What they do from 9 to 5 is exactly what they do from 5 to 9 the following morning. Added to this they have to sit duties, such as answering the phone from times like midnight to 4am, or 4am to 8am.

These duties are rotated, but it is compulsory for these duties to be done, and while it is your duty you may not leave the “box” (where they sit the duties unless someone covers for you a few minutes – this is not being on standby).

Furthermore, I have been told that they get a food allowance of R19 per shift – considering the work they do this is pathetic. They respond to numerous calls over the 24 hours at work – most in the early hours of the morning.

Just imagine sitting by the phone from midnight to 4am and then getting called out 15 minutes later to spend two hours at a shack fire, and for all of this time only getting a standby allowance.

That is just sick. I am so tired of nobody realising what our firefighters are put through, and unless you live with one of our heroes, as I do, you truly don’t see.

The City ruled against their demand to be paid properly – for overtime, to get paid for Sundays and public holidays (they don’t get extra pay for working Christmas etc.)

These men and women deal with so, so much more than fires – they are often the first to any scene and save people and their homes from more than just fires.

I think the whole situation needs to be highlighted, and people need to be aware of what is really going on.

I am heartbroken for our men and women who work so hard and do so much for everyone. They need to be paid and respected properly.

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