Being able to make a difference does not simply outweigh tireless efforts dedicated to the calling and challenge of battling life-threatening emergencies. It is the best part of the job.
This is the shared sentiment of a group of passionate local firefighters who are committed to the noble occupation and the community they serve.
Firefighters Thomas Jones (54), Rual Cassiem (32), Charmain Willemse (33) and Andisiwe Noruka (32) of Macassar Fire Station form a platoon that has been lauded by community members for their remarkable feats after disgruntled residents torched the municipal housing office during a service delivery protest on Monday 30 April (“Macassar municipal building razed”, DistrictMail, 3 May).
“Often we have to calm the storm to do our job,” said Noruka, while recalling enraged protestors’ attempts to deter firefighting efforts following their response to the incident during an interview with DistrictMail earlier this week. The crew, however, managed to douse the fire and bring it under control within 15 minutes.
Although the team has been together only four years, it boasts more than five decades of collective experience and dedication to firefighting and rescue service.
Noruka has been battling blazes for nine years, while the longest serving firefighter is Jones with 29 years of service. His interest in firefighting, saving lives and hard-earned property, and serving the community was sparked while working as a civilian at the Saldanha naval base’s fire department. Jones started working as an assistant firefighter in 1984 and was appointed a firefighter for the City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Services in 1989.
“I am tremendously proud to be able to do my job to the best of my ability and, hopefully, continue for a few more years – there’s not many left unfortunately,” he jokingly said.
Cassiem recalled feeling compelled to pursue a career that would benefit the community, after witnessing and experiencing the struggles of residents since childhood. He served as disaster risk volunteer in 2012 and became a firefighter in 2014. The keen young firefighter remains motivated through wise words once shared by a mentor, who said that the reward will always be bigger than any challenge.
Willemse developed a love for what she does after becoming a firefighter 10 years ago. The former police reservist recalled battling to douse raging mountain fires as a firefighter in training in 2008. “I remember feeling overwhelmed and anxious at the first call-out to the scene where 250 shacks were alight,” she said. “However, with help from a supportive team, I gained more confidence and assisting in life and death situations became easier to deal with.”
Willemse regards the camaraderie as important as being in good physical and mental shape to perform.
The firefighters draw inspiration from superior Dalmaine Anthony, recalling being in awe of the intermediate life support medic who, a few months ago, used his remarkable skill to save the life of a young girl.
The girl was rushed to the fire station after she had smashed in a window during an altercation and was seriously injured, Willemse related.
“Owing to the severity of the cuts sustained, she was completely pale, blue around the mouth and had fixed dilated pupils. We did not think that she was going to make it. But [Anthony] kept her alive. We look up to him, as someone who leads by great example.”
The firefighting team strives to uphold the fire station’s high stand in the community, which depends on assistance in times of need or crisis. “We take pride in what we do and respond to every incident we are called into action for with urgency,” says Willemse. “It could have been our house on fire or our family members whose lives are at risk and are in need of help.”
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