eThekwini Fire Department in the red

08 Oct 2021 in Press Statements

The Democratic Alliance in eThekwini will be writing to the chairperson of the Finance, Security and Emergency services committee to ascertain and call for an investigation into the alleged directive that was given by one of the senior managers at the Fire unit. This directive apparently was that members should not attend to emergencies because they do not have necessary equipment and uniforms.

We will also be requesting reasons for the moratorium on filling vacancies and clear reasons for the delay in procuring equipment and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

This shocking revelation would explain the many fire incidents around eThekwini that takes hours to be attended to including the Kennedy Road shack fires. This is totally unacceptable as it puts people’s lives at risk. It is sad that after the unrest we saw in eThekwini where many shops, warehouses, and bigger companies were burned down to ashes, this crucial department does not have enough gears to charge their duties.

The DA has repeatedly called on this department to overhaul this critical unit, however the unit unashamedly produces reports of the crisis it is now facing. The crisis have been in the making for years, with the head of this unit failing dismally to adequately address the basics of filling vacancies and securing Fire Protective Personal Equipment (PPE).

Some fire stations in eThekwini face imminent closure as firefighters battle with available resources, reporting for duty with no proper uniforms, inadequate fire PPE, defective fire engines, inadequate staffing, and inadequate supply of oxygen cylinders, defective breathing apparatus and compressors that have not been serviced.

The current complement of staff of only 457 falls short of the total of 827 operational firefighters required. A minimal increase to 553 personnel is noted, however implementation of recruitment is dependent on procurement of uniforms and PPE being achieved. The moratorium on recruitment has been in place since 2019, thus any pending application must be reviewed as the entire recruitment process needs to start afresh. Compulsory physical fitness and medical reviews will have to be revisited.

This unacceptable moratorium on filling vacancies has fuelled the overtime budgets. Current reports show an alarming trend whereby a budget of R15.1m is allocated but an additional R29.5m for the 2021-22 financial year is required. In the last financial year, the report showed the unit had budgeted R13.7m and eventually spent R43m in overtime pay. Accordingly, the DA cannot condone a report that seeks to motivate for overtime pay, to compensate for the failure of this unit’s inability to adequately staff its stations.

The current staff whose work is labour-intensive, stressful, traumatic and dangerous also, cannot be expected to cover shifts not designed for optimal health and wellbeing of the employee. Whilst the report expressed that the unit is not adequately staffed to maintain normal and safe working conditions, to avoid closing some of these fire stations, continuous overtime is necessary to maintain the required minimum staff levels at all 22 operational fire stations.

Many critical units in eThekwini Municipality are crumbling and the Fire department is unfortunately another one being left to ruins by the current political leadership.