Bear­ing the brunt of Hwange’s fires

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Gender/feature - Fea­ture Lin­dani Dube

RO­BUST, highly ef­fi­cient and hard­work­ing is only scratch the sur­face when try­ing to de­scribe Hwange’s Fire and Res­cue Team for their gal­lantry when dis­as­ters of vary­ing scales strike. As one en­ters the crew’s emer­gency wait­ing room, let­ters, notes and cards of ap­pre­ci­a­tion from var­i­ous in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions im­me­di­ately cap­ture the vis­i­tor’s at­ten­tion.

One such ex­pres­sion of grat­i­tude from St Pa­trick’s Hos­pi­tal, dated Septem­ber 25, 2015 reads:

“Spe­cial Thanks to Alert and Com­pe­tent HCC Fire­fight­ers…Through timely in­ter­ven­tion you pro­tected St. Pa­trick’s Hos­pi­tal and sur­round­ings from the de­struc­tive forces of fire.”

Chron­i­cle re­cently got up close and per­sonal with the squad. The team re­sponds to emer­gen­cies in the con­ces­sion, Hwange District and pro­vides sup­port to vast stretches of ar­eas in Mata­bele­land North prov­ince.

In ad­di­tion, the team at­tends to road traf­fic ac­ci­dents, rail res­cue op­er­a­tions, main­te­nance of fire equip­ment, fire pro­tec­tion and pre­ven­tion, train­ing of em­ploy­ees on fire types and how to fight them, por­ta­ble fire ex­tin­guisher us­age and ser­vic­ing as well as train­ing of fire mar­shals.

Lead fire fighter, Mr Zenzo Luphahla, de­scribed the job as hec­tic in most in­stances as the team does not know what to ex­pect on a call out.

“It is hec­tic for the most part. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing a call you do not know what to ex­pect. When re­spond­ing to call outs our lives are in danger as we speed to the scene, some­times en­coun­ter­ing ig­no­rant mo­torists.

“The type of ter­rain and un­fa­mil­iar routes also pose a danger to the team. An ex­am­ple is that of Dibamombe and Dete train dis­as­ter in 2003,” he said.

Mr Luphahla says there are no sim­i­lar in­ci­dents in fire fight­ing as new sit­u­a­tions are pre­sented on ev­ery call out.

“In road traf­fic ac­ci­dents the risk of other mo­torists crash­ing into the wreck­age or the team is high. Ac­ci­dent ve­hi­cles are also likely to catch fire if they carry dan­ger­ous or flammable sub­stances which may re­act and pose grave danger to the fire team.

“On gen­eral road traf­fic ac­ci­dents the team checks out the sur­round­ings, on small ve­hi­cles chances are low but our ma­jor con­cern is fuel tankers or un­known sub­stances where we rely on haz­ard warn­ing pan­els,” Mr Luphahla said.

He says a fresh and sober mind at the be­gin­ning of each shift was a pre­req­ui­site.

“We are pa­raded for day to day drills and sim­u­la­tions of real life sit­u­a­tions. As part of our job, we re­search and read more to keep abreast of new ways of how to han­dle new sit­u­a­tions,” he said.

Fire-fight­ing is one of the risk­est jobs around said Mr Luphahla who has at­tended to many fright­en­ing ac­ci­dents in his long ca­reer. He, how­ever, was not keen to name the worst ac­ci­dent he has at­tended to.

His swift re­sponse was, “We just keep the past in the past and look for­ward to new chal­lenges.”

The team uses a Mercedes Benz water ten­der with a 3,000-litre car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity pur­chased by Hwange Col­liery Com­pany in 2013. The ten­der also car­ries 400 litres of foam.

“The foam is com­posed of a spe­cial chem­i­cal for flammable liq­uids. It is mixed into the water sys­tem and comes out as bub­bles when air is in­tro­duced,” said Mr Luphahla.

HCCL Fire, Plumb­ing and Sewage fore­man, Mr Amos Lungu, ap­pealed to Hwange res­i­dents to avoid un­nec­es­sary burn­ing and start­ing of fires. He en­cour­aged com­mu­ni­ties to build fire­guards to help con­tain or con­trol veld fires.

“Peo­ple should avoid start­ing fires un­nec­es­sar­ily. In house­holds, we should all en­sure lights and elec­tri­cal gad­gets are switched off when not in use. We en­cour­age peo­ple not to use loose con­nec­tions and over­load sock­ets. All mo­torists should have me­chan­i­cal fire ex­tin­guish­ers and en­sure they are ser­viced reg­u­larly,” said Mr Lungu.

He says veld fires can be ex­tin­guished us­ing tree branches. He urged com­mu­ni­ties to be al­ways alert and vig­i­lant when­ever there are fire out­breaks as fires are a ma­jor threat to hu­mans, wildlife, the en­vi­ron­ment and prop­erty.

Of all fires oc­cur­ring in 2015, six were caused by im­proper can­dle us­age.

Mr Lungu says most houses in Hwange have loose con­nec­tions and over­load­ing of elec­tri­cal com­po­nents has be­come a norm.

“In the vil­lages the sys­tem is in­cor­rect. In many house­holds where an in­di­vid­ual uses a room you are likely to find a deep freezer, stove, TV set and other ap­pli­ances con­nected to one power source. Our peo­ple should take note of the volt­age rat­ings on ex­ten­sion ca­bles and en­gage (Sub­urb/Vil­lage) T and V work­shop for su­pe­rior ex­ten­sions,” he said.

Mr Lungu ap­pealed for a breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus set for the fire and res­cue team.

“The com­po­nents,” he said, “come in handy in ar­eas where we can­not see the fire due to ex­ces­sive smoke. We are in need of 10 gas cylin­ders and five masks for the team.”

He high­lighted a ma­jor prob­lem in emer­gency com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween his team and res­i­dents, whereby res­i­dents pre­fer call­ing on his per­sonal or team mem­ber mo­bile phones in­stead of con­tact­ing the fire brigade di­rectly on 0281-22320, re­sult­ing in lost time.

“There is a de­lay in call­ing the brigade as peo­ple pre­fer to call me or team mem­bers first. There is noth­ing wrong with call­ing me but that re­sults in de­lays.

Five min­utes is a lot of time in fire terms and we do not want to lose any sec­ond. In­di­vid­ual team mem­bers may be out of the Hwange district or of­fice, hence calls to me or team mem­bers are not ideal.

We ap­peal to every­one to call the brigade di­rectly on 0281-22320 for prompt re­sponse to emer­gen­cies,” said Mr Lungu.

Shift C, One quar­ter of Hwange Col­liery’s Fire Com­bat and Res­cue team

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