Bearing the brunt of Hwange’s fires
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