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Electric arcing could have started Voëlklip fire

The response of the fire brigade to the Voëlklip fire on 14 January 2017 was praiseworthy. And it was commendable that the mayor and various ward councillors were at the scene so quickly.

However, it was a fire that should never have occurred.

On the Thursday morning before the fire we were walking on the cycle track behind the conservation offices near the lagoon when we noticed loud sparking from an electricity pylon. I returned home immediately, as we had no phones with us, and tried to contact Eskom. The operator and I had difficulty understanding each other; she didn’t know where Hermanus was and kept asking for my account number. I hung up when she told me the line was bad. So at 07:15 I called the Overstrand’s emergency line and was told to call back at 07:45 as the electricity department was closed. After some explaining that this was a potential problem, he finally agreed to let them know about the problem when they came in to work.

At 08:00 I phoned Overstrand’s main board and asked for Electricity, just to check that some action had been taken but there was no reply. I called again and explained to switchboard that this was a potential fire hazard and she transferred me to the same man I had spoken to at 07:15. He assured me that he had sent an electrician out. When I saw the smoke on Saturday I realised immediately where it had started. I am so sorry that I didn’t go back onto the mountain to check that this problem had been sorted as it could have avoided all the expense of fire engines, spotter plane and helicopter. But perhaps it had been seen to and the problem reoccurred?

Would it not be possible for the Municipality to implement a system of issuing reference numbers when problems are reported telephonically – so that there is some accountability and a quick method of checking on progress?

Fran Hanekom Eskom’s spokesperson responds: We issue customers with a reference number when they contact our Contact Centre and progress of faults are monitored.

Roderick Williams, Director, Community Services at Overstrand Municipality responds: After-hours services have been centralised and municipal office numbers will still work, but will be diverted to the Overstrand switchboard. The Overstrand Municipality has had a 24-hour Emergency Control Room (028 313 8000/8111) in operation for more than six years with operators on a 24-hour shift system.
The centre deals with general enquiries and complaints essentially after hours on public holidays and over weekends.
When receiving complaints or general enquiries from the public, the Call Centre operator electronically logs the caller’s details as well as the nature of the query or complaint on the customer care computer system. The relevant department is then informed.
Members of the public can request a customer complaint number in order to follow up on the progress of a specific complaint.
We encourage residents to ask for a reference number and to quote it in all correspondence or telephone discussions relating to that particular request, as it provides call traceability for both parties.
In the event of an emergency, the last thing one needs is to worry about a call failure or to try and remember the correct telephone number.
Fire and Rescue Emergencies number is 028 312 2400. In case of floods and accidents within the Overstrand area, that same number applies as the Municipality’s 24-hour emergency only number. The Sea Rescue Emergency number is 112. For day-to-day law enforcement complaints ring 028 313 8980. For switchboard and general enquiries ring Overstrand’s control room on 028 313 8000/8111.

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