A race in bunker gear for fallen he­roes

Three fire­fight­ers who ran their first Soweto Marathon in full gear tell their tale

Sunday World - - Sunday Report - By Xo­lile Mt­s­hazo mt­s­ha­[email protected]­day­world.co.za

En­try and qual­i­fi­ca­tion rules in the ath­let­ics hand­book were slightly bent to al­low three Joburg fire-fight­ing he­roes to ful­fil their wish to run their maiden race – last Sun­day’s Old Mu­tual Soweto Marathon – in hon­our of their de­parted col­leagues.

With only sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion and guts, the trio en­tered the race four months af­ter en­tries were closed.

As first-time run­ners of the 42.2km marathon, they were is­sued with tem­po­rary li­cences two days be­fore the race.

Nh­laka­nipho Khoza, Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala, and Mzolo Nkosi were kit­ted out in full bunker gear, each weigh­ing 18kg, to run with other sea­soned marathon­ers while hon­our­ing the fallen he­roes.

Khoza, 23, from Zondi, Tsha­bal­ala, 24, from Mo­folo, both in Soweto, and Nkosi, 31, from Fleurhof on the West Rand, ran the race in hon­our of their col­leagues Simphiwe Moropane, 28, Khathut­sh­elo Muedi, 37, and Mduduzi Ndlovu, 40, who per­ished on duty while fight­ing an in­ferno that gut­ted the Lis­bon Bank build­ing in the Joburg CBD in Septem­ber.

Eight other lad­der­men were in­jured dur­ing the blaze.

“We would like to thank the or­gan­is­ers, par­tic­u­larly Caro­line Malan [one of the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee mem­bers] for mak­ing our dream come true.

“We were not do­ing it for the sake of pub­lic­ity, we were not even look­ing for do­na­tions,” said Khoza.

“Af­ter Sun­day we drove to Dur­ban to re­lax on the beach. On Wed­nes­day we went to TUT [Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy] to check on our marks and pick up the timeta­bles for our ex­ams as we are all study­ing for a na­tional diploma in fire tech­nol­ogy.

“We’ve even for­got­ten that we ran the race for the first time and fin­ished it. When the go­ing was tough for one of our mem­bers, we waited for them to re­cover, picked them up and con­tin­ued run­ning.

“As first-timers we are ec­static with our 6hr, 22min, 12sec fin­ish­ing time. We just wanted to raise aware­ness about what fire fight­ing in­volves. Our motto in this job is that we ‘en­ter to­gether, come out to­gether’ from a burn­ing build­ing, that’s the very rea­son we ran as a team,” said Khoza.

He said, as paramedics, they eas­ily dealt with de­hy­dra­tion along the way.

“We were los­ing body flu­ids be­cause of the heavy bunker gear we were wear­ing.”

Said Tsha­bal­ala: “It was a dif­fi­cult race but we were de­ter­mined to fin­ish it. We would like to thank all the peo­ple who lined the streets to cheer us on.

“That suit is heavy, it has three thermo lay­ers in­side. But the heat we ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the race is noth­ing com­pared to what our broth­ers went through when they died.”

Tshaba­bala sus­tained skin burns dur­ing the race be­cause of the in­tense heat.

“It was a chal­leng­ing race, es­pe­cially the up and down hills. Our bunker gear uni­form was the great­est chal­lenge. It re­stricted move­ment and mo­bil­ity,” he said.

“I will not run again next year but Khoza and Nkosi have not made up their minds yet,” said Tsha­bal­ala.

“We have other col­leagues from other ar­eas who are de­ter­mined to en­ter the race next year to make it an an­nual re­mem­brance and com­mem­o­ra­tion race. The pub­lic­ity we got was over­whelm­ing,” he said

“Ours was just to raise aware­ness about what we go through on a daily ba­sis at work; to say we won’t for­get our fallen col­leagues be­cause they paid with their lives while on duty.”

Dubbed the Peo­ple’s Race, the marathon made his­tory when a record 32 000 run­ners – the high­est field in his­tory – pounded the streets and back al­leys of Soweto last Sun­day.

We say we won’t for­get our fallen col­leagues be­cause they paid with their lives while on duty

Fire­fight­ers Nkosi Mzolo, Nh­laka­nipho Khoza and Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala are joined by other run­ners to cel­e­brate com­plet­ing the race at the FNB Sta­dium in Soweto.

/ Tsepiso Ramosela

The fallen fire­fight­ers Simphiwe Moropane, Khathut­sh­elo Muedi and Mduduzi Ndlovu.

Nh­laka­nipho Khoza, Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala and Nkosi Mzolo ran the Soweto Marathon in their fire­fight­ing gear.

/ Thu­lani Mbele

Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala sweat­ing it out.

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