While the overall number of incidents remained static year-on-year, the Western Cape Fire and Rescue Services experienced increases in some incident categories and faced a number of tough challenges, including the devastating blazes at Parliament and in Langa.
Also Read: The City allocates R235m towards new urban waste management vehicles
In the past twelve months, arguably two of the biggest incidents between July 2021 and June 2022 were among 14 978 fires responded to by the City’s Fire and Rescue Service.
During the period in question, fires accounted for just over 66% of all incidents responded to, whereas the rest were special service calls, including responses to motor vehicle accidents, medical emergencies, rescues, and incidents involving hazardous materials.
In addition, an overall comparison year on year shows that the number of incidents was fairly static, with a notable reduction in a number of categories including vegetation fires and informal residential fires.
According to the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith, the increases in fatalities and formal residential fires are a concern. He said that five of the incidents over the past year accounted for 20 fatalities.
Formal house fires increased by 36%. While there might be a tendency to point towards increased loadshedding, they however do not have enough evidence to confirm such a link. Another unfortunate reality is that negligence and substance abuse continue to be contributing factors.
Smith commented by saying: “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.”
Also Read: Bless the rains down on Helderberg, huge relief for firefighters and residents
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.
Generally, during the summer there is an increase in vegetation fires with special service calls in between such as 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,” said Smith.
He explained that when the Fire and Rescue Service does 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. However, these are not the only factors that impact their response times, as attacks on firefighters continue unabated.
In most cases, vehicles are stoned on route to incidents, and fire crews are hindered in the execution of their duties on scene, with Smith saying: ” As we saw in Langa earlier this year, fire hoses were cut while staff was 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.”
According to the City of Cape Town
, the Fire and Rescue Service will spend just over R12 million 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.
Alleged Parliament arsonist Zandile Mafe denied bail