I’ve done some interesting things as a blogger – I’ve run next to a Ford Focus for 25km, I’ve dished out cereal to learners at a school, I’ve given up using a washing machine for a week, and made pancakes for Masterchef judge Benny Maswekwameng to judge too. Unless it involves riding a bike, I’m keen to try a lot of things, whether they’re fun, fearful, hard work or involve making a small difference to someone’s life.
So when I got an email inviting me to go on a six-hour shift with the City of Joburg’s fire and rescue team, starting at midnight one Friday night, I jumped at the chance, excited to do something new, and a bit nervous too about what I’d see or have to do. I was invited with some other bloggers to experience a shift with either the fire department or the ambulance service, while a production team would film and interview us.
Aside from my son’s fourth birthday party at Sandton Fire Station, and watching dozens of episodes of Fireman Sam, which don’t count, my knowledge of the work of the fire department was non-existent. And one cold Friday night at the Northview Fire Station in Joburg, I would learn, laugh, cry at some of the stories I heard, and have my perspective shifted.
That night, for six hours, I took pictures, asked questions, shared jokes, and even slid down the fireman’s pole several times, creating memories and gaining knowledge, and accumulating stories for my son, who flits between wanting to be a fireman or rescue pilot one day.
While blogger Ben Karpinski of Follow The Bounce and I waited for the shift to start, the first thing I learnt is that the City of Joburg’s fire department not only fights fires, but does rescue and paramedic work too, and it can take up to seven years for each rescue worker to gain all the accreditations.
At midnight, the team assembled for their team meeting, and after mentioning that all checks to the equipment and vehicles had been done, the team then dispersed, to basically wait for any emergency calls.
There was always a chance that there would be no call-outs during our six hours there, and a part of me was immensely relieved that there were no emergencies, not even at the stations in Alexandra and Sandton, which we visited from around 2am to 3am. I was told that for a Friday night, it was quite unusual that there were no callouts, but no one really wishes for them either, so there wasn’t exactly disappointment.
What I did gather from speaking to some of the crew is that they absolutely love what they do, and being able to help is one of their biggest joys, so they miss out when they’re not able to help and save lives (again – no one wishes for that phone to ring off the hook).
So what did we do while waiting? We drank tea and coffee, slid down fireman poles, watched the guys play pool, chatted, and drove to Alex and Sandton fire stations to look around (and slide down Alex’s long pole) and see and learn more about the rescue vehicles, including one at Northview Fire Station that has more than R17 million worth of rescue equipment, from life jackets and oxygen tanks to axes, chainsaws and concrete cutters. We also tried on fire suits, which, once a siren goes off, firemen need to get into in a minute.
Weighing in at 36kg including an oxygen tank, the set-up is not exactly lightweight, and I struggled to move around in mine.
It wasn’t easy trying to run in a suit that weighed almost half my body weight.
What else will I one day share with my son about my time at the fire station? For starters, these guys don’t feel like the enemy, and each one I spoke to for a limited time and in a limited environment was kind, gentle and humble, and each one basically explained that it’s their calling to help. I understand that cops and metro cops get a bad rap, and it’s not here that I’ll judge them, or criticise the system (there are plenty media platforms who take care of this).
I’ll tell my son that one of the rescue team, Morgan Mooka, who underwent gruelling training in the Navy, yet got tears in his eyes when telling me about the drowned children he found in a pool in the northern suburbs of Joburg.
I’ll tell my son that while it was fun and games trying to put on a rescue suit, and sliding down the pole while being filmed with my iPhone, there is another side to the picture – one that involves risk, hard work and danger, loss, gains, triumphs and disaster. And that every time I see a rescue vehicle with its siren on, instead of picturing what disaster is at their destination, I’m going to focus on the amazing people on their way there.
Check out my experience at http://www.centrumguardian.com/