The charity works with various fire brigades across South Africa,
sometimes in an advisory capacity (particularly on public education), sometimes
sharing training initiatives and sometimes in a watchdog capacity where the
fire brigades are understaffed, underfunded or where management seems to be
In Alexandra township we discovered that one third of the fire hydrants
were not working. David Thembe, the operational fire chief for Greater
Johannesburg was contacted about the matter, as was Amos Masondo, the Mayor of
Johannesburg, but by mid January 2002 they had failed to respond to us about
this serious safety issue. The charity has assisted families bereaved in
Alexandra fires where the nearest fire hydrant was not working.
Strike Ralegoma, the Johannesburg councillor dealing with public safety
and Hillo Maeko, who also has a senior emergency services role, were similarly
unresponsive. Johannesburg Disaster Management continues to remain at minimal
Brixton Fire Brigade
Our longest relationship has been with
Brixton Fire Brigade and the associated training facility. Together we have
pioneered successful courses in fire safety, shaped particularly for squatter
camp needs. Lawrence Boya from Johannesburg Region 4 was kind enough to help
get a shack built in the Brixton fire brigade training grounds, to make
squatter camp training more realistic.
The fire station has been very helpful in wider public education
initiatives, particularly in the Joe Slovo squatter camp. It has lent us
personnel and fire tenders to encourage the residents to come and listen to
fire safety messages and for the children to practice Stop Drop and Roll,
rolling their friends in blankets to put out imaginary flames.
Brixton Fire Brigade willingly goes into the Joe Slovo camp in
Coronation to refill the firefighting water tank that we placed there, and
following intimidation by a man called David Masilo, the training ground stored
ten firefighting water tanks for us until we could find them a new more
welcoming destination. Those ten tanks have been shared equally between
Alexandra township (Johannesburg Region 7) and Benoni Fire Brigade, for one of
their least-well serviced squatter camps.
Brixton, which covers some flats and at least three large squatter
camps, is sometimes severely understaffed, seemingly exacerbated by an
unwillingness to pay overtime. Men are required to work 24 hour, 36 hour or
even longer shifts, which must be totally disruptive for family life. During
much of December 2001 there were allegedly only two fire fighters and one
engine driver on duty.
Benoni Fire Brigade
Benoni Fire Brigade has some 600,000
people living in squatter camps. We have agreed to co-operate on public safety
education and have given them five firefighting water tanks for their area,
worth some R25,000.
After many meetings with Jacques Steyn and collegues, the Benoni Brigade
- the only private fire fighting service in South Africa - is arranging a golf
day to fund raise for the charity in southern-hemisphere Autumn 2002. We will
co-operate on preparing safety literature for schools and children that is more
appropriate than any that has been produced in South Africa to date. The fire
brigade will work with Children of Fire on training programmes for adult fire
marshalls in the camps.
Germiston Fire Brigade
A promising start with visits to many
Germiston squatter camps has tapered off in January 2002 because the key
volunteers who were working in the area have not got enough time available at
the moment to take the process forward. Links with John Khoza in public
education will be maintained and again assistance will be given to make the
school safety brochures more useful, with the right level of vocabulary and
drawings that children remember. Many fire brigades have focussed on "cute"
characters that children like but the fire safety messages seem to be forgotten
too easily unless the information is a little more realistic and hard-hitting.
Cape Town Fire Brigade
Distance precludes regular face to
face links with Donald Sparks and his team but email communications continue
with a variety of fire stations in the area as well as links with Disaster
Management and the part-government-sponsored Ukuvuka
initiative. Children of Fire helped with a fire awareness week, hosted for
supper each day with the local fire brigade, and is preparing for another
similar week in 2002.
Alexandra Fire Brigade
There are a large number of women fire
fighters in Alex and an even larger number of female firefighting volunteers,
both of which trends are encouraging. However, the staff sometimes seem a
little demoralised, particularly as they only have one fire engine and that is
not always working.
Newcastle Fire Brigade
Newcastle is remarkably well equipped
compared with some of its larger urban counterparts, and has few squatter camp
fire problems. Morale seems good among firefighters and they were keen to
support children like Oscar if needed.
Brakpan Fire Brigade
Leon Jordaan has approached Children of
Fire for help in his area, with 800,000 people living in squatter camps.
Combined public education initiatives are likely by southern hemisphere Winter
There are other links with a variety of fire brigades - watch this
space for more updates.