Veld fire alarming warning

THE inadequacy of Ndlambe’s fire department was highlighted again last weekend when a veld fire on farmland bordering the industrial area had to be fought by local famers with little help from municipal fire-fighters.

In our front page story we highlight the Keystone Cops’ (or rather Keystone firemen) response of the fire department, which initially was nowhere to be found after the fire started on Saturday evening.

Later, when local bee farmers went to the fire department to enquire why they were not out fighting the blaze they were given the run-around and told help had been requested from Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown.

The most flabbergasting response was when they asked why the fire department’s pride and joy, a R1,4-million tender parked in the building, was not being used. The answer from a fireman on site, and later repeated by the municipal spokesman, was that it could not be taken “off-road”.

We understand this is an expensive machine, but if it cannot be used for its intended purpose, then what good is it?

It didn’t help that the Friderichs assured the firefighters they would not have to drive in the bush but just along a farm road to be able to combat the blaze.

When the fire department did eventually dispatch a water tanker and another vehicle with spraying equipment, the sprayer did not work.

Another fire engine showed up but simply turned around and left again. When a farmer chased it down and asked the driver to return he was told it just carries water and has no sprayers.

If it wasn’t for the assistance of neighbouring farmers who brought whatever fire-fighting equipment that had, this story may have had a tragic ending, either in loss of property or loss of life.

It turns out this is not the first time farmers have been left virtually stranded by the fire department. Coert Herbst, chairman of the Eastern Border Farmers Association (EBFA), described similar problems when a fire broke out in a blue gum forest near Shaw Park two months ago.

In that incident, farmers were also told the fire truck could not go off-road.

The need for adequate fire-fighting equipment in Ndlambe was one of the key issues raised by the Ndlambe Ratepayers Forum several years ago, following articles in TotT highlighting the fire department’s slow responses and ageing and faulty equipment.

In one of the most comical scenes, fire-fighters used the leaks in their hoses to spray a veld fire as water pressure at the end of the hose was decreased due to the leaks.

Ndlambe was proud of the day it finally acquired a brand new fire engine in 2009, bought with grant money for R1,4-million, and there were congratulations all around.

But if this engine can’t be used to battle veld fires, considering we are a mainly rural area, then we have not accomplished much at all.

Ndlambe still has a dire need for equipment to be able to combat all types of fires.

– Jon Houzet

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