The 1st of December marks the official start of the Western Cape’s fire season, and each year, the province experiences the worst of the country’s bush and veld blazes. Firefighters play an integral role in dousing not just these fires, but others as well, and feel they are not fairly paid.
A group of Lakeside Fire Station firefighters picketed outside the station on Wednesday to demand they be paid fairly for the hours they spend on duty. They stood along the roadside with supporters carrying placards messages such as “Overworked and Underpaid”.
Firefighters are dissatisfied at being on duty 24-hours of the day, but only being paid for 16 hours of duty. City firefighters are paid a standby allowance, which is only 22.8% of their hourly rate.
Speaking to EWN, one firefighter claimed that there is also very little room to rise within the ranks of the service.
“I’ve sacrificed a lot to be in this career, and I love what I do. Even with attacks on firefighters and burning down of stations, we still respond to incidents every single day… we give our 200%. So, why should we not ask for what we deserve?” he said.
The picket grew larger as more firefighters joined, and several were seen holding signs up at the Roeland Street Station in Cape Town’s CBD on Wednesday afternoon. There were some who did not participate, but showed support by forming a line outside in the full uniforms.
“The City of Cape Town’s Safety and Security Directorate is currently engaging with personnel through their trade unions on the matter in order to reach an amicable resolution,” said Richard Bosman, City of Cape Town’s Director of Safety and Security. “Negotiations are currently proceeding and we cannot comment further until a resolution has been achieved. The City is committed to finding a solution in the interest of rendering an effective service to our communities.”
Cape Town’s firefighters put their lives on the line each time that they are called to duty – four firefighters lost their lives on 19 September.
The firefighters were injured after a gas cylinder exploded in a container at an education building located in Belhar. According to Mayco member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, a pile of wood next to the container and heated the steel container, causing an explosion.
“One of them (firefighters) was inside the container at the time of the explosion and was taken to hospital suffering from disorientation,” Smith said. “A learner firefighter was thrown backwards and sustained minor injuries when a metal post landed on his left leg, and the station commander suffered a bruise on his forehead, bleeding from his mouth and second-degree burns on the back of his head.”
He added that the explosion was attributed to the improper storage of the cylinders.
“I appeal to the public to assist us by being more vigilant around flammable materials at all times regardless of the use of the building. Exercise caution when using, storing, or handling equipment that could ignite or produce heat.”