Buffalo City Metro firefighters may be found wanting if devastating fires such as those that raged through the southern Cape and south Eastern Cape recently break out in the metro.
At the heart of BCM’s crisis, sources within the fire department said, was the metro’s ailing fire truck fleet, all of which continue to be used to douse deadly fires springing up around the metro.
This is despite the fact that these trucks are all unroadworthy – or not properly equipped to deal with fire and other disasters.
The metro has seven fire stations – Fleet Street, Greenfields, Fynbos, Mdantsane, Dimbaza, King William’s Town and Vincent.
Of BCM’s six fire engines, not one is roadworthy and four were last week pulled out of service and sent for repairs.
This left the city with two trucks, one each at the Vincent and Fynbos fire stations, to service more areas, a senior fire department source confirmed yesterday.
Sister newspaper Daily Dispatch has seen a copy of fire department’s incident report from last Tuesday’s deadly fire which engulfed parts of Duncan Village destroying 20 shacks in Douglas Street just after 9pm.
Simultaneously, wildfires erupted in an open area between Amalinda Main and Kelly Road just behind McDonald’s.
With only two operational fire engines available, “we had to prioritise Duncan Village because the fire was spreading to other shacks and people’s lives were at risk.
“This is not to say the Amalinda fire was not a priority because it could have spread to houses, but what do you do when all other trucks are not available as they were due for repairs?” a senior fire official who was on duty that night said.
When more wildfires erupted in Nahoon Valley and Abbotsford on Monday, only the Vincent fire truck was operational, sources said.
“This is the same Vincent truck whose left back door has to be fastened using wire, putting lives of the firefighters at risk,” another source said.
Worst of all, is the Dimbaza fire station which has been operating without a fire truck for two years, a situation which puts extra strain on King William’s Town firefighters who have to come to the rescue when there are fires in that area.
Sources said staff at all fire centres across the metro were demoralised because the few operational fire engines had several defects, such leaking hose equipment.
“One of these operational trucks is in such a poor state due to leaks that when you take it far-afield, by the time the truck arrives, the water tank is half-full.
“If they had to go an extra mile, rest assured the firefighters will battle to douse the fire as there won’t be any water in the tank,” the insider said.
But metro spokesman Sam Ngwenya denied the fire trucks were unroadworthy or defective.
“All fire engines do have a certificate of compliance test annually at our mechanical workshop and vehicles are checked daily.
“For those vehicles that are out of commission, we have a plan in place, and some of the items like [the Jaws of Life hydraulically-operated rescue equipment] are at a tendering stage,” added Ngwenya.
BCM DA Councillor Sue Bentley said BCM’s fire trucks and stations were in a sorry state.
Bentley said some of the trucks lacked basic equipment such as chainsaws and angle-grinders to use during times of need, while other trucks had no stepladders or trauma boards or cervical collars for neck support.
“Our metro lacks adequate hosing with available hosing equipment leaking. The problem is made worse by the limited number of nozzles available, which greatly affects the response time to a fire-alarm,” she added.
“BCM fire engines also have no full sets of Jaws of Life, no fire extinguishers, no oxygen or fire blankets for burn victims, and no resuscitation devices.
“It is very clear that the metro is not ready for any major fire disaster,” Bentley said.
Ngwenya admitted: “Indeed there are normal burdens and challenges when it comes to issues of maintenance and servicing of our vehicles due to their complex technical nature.
“However to suggest that we are a training centre that does not have ladders, fire extinguishers and medical aid kits is absurd,” Ngwenya said.
The poor state of BCM fire stations and its fire engines is not new. The Dispatch first reported on this “ticking time bomb” in 2014, a report which focused on the state of the metro’s fire stations.
But a year later, the Dispatch quoted the metro’s then acting director of public safety and health, Steve Terwin, saying the city had a programme of replacing fire engines, with a budget set aside to buy three new trucks in the 2015-2016 financial year.
“For the 2016-17 financial year we have funding approved for another fire engine, so every year we have funding that has been approved for the replacement of vehicles and purchase of additional fire engines,” Terwin said at the time.
But Bentley said the situation had not improved to date.
“In the light of the devastating fires that ravaged Knysna, Nelson Mandela Bay and Kouga last week, the DA in BCM is gravely concerned about the capacity of the metro to fight fires of that magnitude,” Bentley said.
She said the DA had for the past two years asked questions in the city council to ascertain the functionality of the metro’s fire department.
“To date, many of the answers given have been unsatisfactory,” she said.
Ngwenya said Bentley unfairly compared BCM and Knysna as the two cities are not built the same way.
He said when Mayor Xola Pakati tables his state of the metro address today he “will be announcing the arrival of a new state-of-the-art fire engine, which is expected to arrive in the city this weekend.
“I want to assure our people that we are well capable of coping and handling fires and disasters,” Ngwenya added.