Firefighters feel the burn when residents turn on them

Firefighters at the Kommetjie Road fire station say they want to serve the community, but hostile responses from the very people they are trying to help make their job difficult.

Far south firefighters say threats, violence and theft are making it hard for them to do their job.

“We are here to serve the community, but these attacks make our job a lot more challenging,” said Kommetjie Road fire station’s acting commander Mark Hall.

In the latest incident, two men tried to steal two firefighting suits and a toolkit from a fire truck that had been sent to the Rasta Camp in Ocean View on Wednesday March 1 after a shack fire had been reported.

Mr Hall said the stolen gear was recovered, but it left firefighters feeling like the community did not have their backs.

The firefighters told of several chilling incidents – including being hit on the helmet with an axe and being threatened with guns – that had taken a toll on their nerves.

According to City Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse, 90 firefighting staff had trauma counselling over the past year.

“During November last year, nine officers went for trauma counselling followed by 20 officers who underwent counselling in December,” he said.

In was hard to pin down the reason for attacks on firefighters, he said.

In some cases, the Kommetjie fire crew has had to leave a scene after being attacked by the very people they came to help. This is what happened when they responded to a call in Masiphumelele in November, say the firefighters.

“We were met by a hostile crowd that began threatening us, stoning the truck and slashing our hosepipes,” Mr Hall said.

The firefighters said the residents had tried to redirect the hoses as they had felt the fire was not being extinguished.

“We withdrew about three or four times. We were at the head of the fire and had no water and were going to burn if we didn’t pull out,” Mr Hall said.

It was important for communities to understand that they operated in good faith, he said.

“The purpose of our work is to serve the community, and we love what we do. We just want to do our jobs.”

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said communities sometimes did not understand that there were very specific reasons why firefighters attacked a fire in a certain way, which might not always make sense to the layperson.

Mr Smith said that following the November incident, he and other officials had held successful meetings with Masiphumelele community leaders to develop a better understanding and prevent similar interference in the future.

He urged residents to refrain from attacking firefighters and other staff trying to render a service.

“It is counter-productive and could have potentially devastating impacts, particularly where response times are delayed due to safety concerns,” he said.