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: Volunteer firefighters risk their lives to protect the environment. New members are now being sought. photo: andrew hagen

It’s a Saturday afternoon. While others are enjoying the sunny weekend weather at leisure, the standby crew members at the Jonkershoek station of the Volunteer Wildfire Services are going through drills to check their gear in the event of a fire call-out.

These dedicated volunteers give their time to safeguard what is important to them – the sensitive biodiversity of the Western Cape.

There is no standard answer to the question why they have joined the Volunteer Wildfire Services. “I always wanted to become a fire fighter. This gives me the opportunity to do so,” someone answers. “I heard from friends about their experiences and decided to join,” someone else adds.

“It’s about passion, discipline, training, being with like-minded people, even about the adrenaline rush,” comes an impromptu summary from crew leader Peter Wynne.

Broadly spoken, uncontrolled fire can be divided into two groups – structural fires and fires in nature. Whereas municipal fire services mostly attend to structural fires in buildings, Volunteer Wildfire Services’ role is that of wildfire suppression. They operate from their Newlands, Jonkershoek and South Peninsula stations.

Working closely with other emergency services in managing fire on land under the control of CapeNature, SANParks and others, Volunteer Wildfire Services has, to date, achieved over 49 000 active firefighting hours amongst its members.

According to Wynne, each fire is different. “Only with training, discipline and teamwork can we take on the challenges that wildfires bring,” he says.

“Our training includes, among others, wildfire suppression, firefighting equipment, map work, radios, 4x4 driving skills, rope work and first aid.”

Asked about the public’s opinion on the firefighter’s role after the recent fires that ravaged parts of the Cape Peninsula and Boland, Wynne is adamant that they are not heroes as portrayed in the media.

“There are no heroes on the fire line,” he says in a modest way. “We’re only doing what we believe in. And we do it as a team.”

But in my mind those who give their time to serve others, are already heroes.

And, if the voluntary work that they do means risking their own lives in order to protect the lives of others, then it certainly is even more valid.

V

Volunteer Wildfire Services are currently recruiting active fire fighters and members who provide support services.

For more information, please visit their website www.vws.org.za or send an e-mail to jnk.memberservices@­vws.org.za

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