Shortage of resources so severe emergency teams often unable to respond, councillors told
Nelson Mandela Bay is battling with severe staff shortages at its nine fire stations – a situation so bad that emergency calls are often on hold because there is no staff available to respond. The municipality needs 144 additional firefighters to augment its total complement of 73 staff.
There is currently only one crew per station a shift doing the work of two.
Further exacerbating the situation, 25 of the 46 fire emergency vehicles are out of action and undergoing repairs.
In a report to the safety and security portfolio committee, which met yesterday, fire manager Nilton Whiteboy painted a bleak picture of staff feeling the strain of having to respond to about 30 emergencies a day.
Last month, 771 emergencies were reported, of which 640 were fires.
Whiteboy said even with the 144 additional firefighters needed, it would still not be enough for two crews per station a shift, but it would add four staff to each shift.
“[It] would go a long way towards normalising the current potentially disastrous staff situation,” he said.
“The strain on the firefighters has been tremendous. There are also litigation risks for council when, due to staff shortages, responses take longer than required, or the appropriate safety measures cannot be implemented at emergency incidents.
“On two occasions, firefighters have been attacked and robbed, which is more likely to happen when there are only a few firefighters at an emergency incident.”
In the report, Whiteboy said during the big vegetation fires some stations had no crews available to respond to any emergencies.
“Some incidents necessitated the joint response of six stations, leaving large areas of the city unprotected,” he wrote.
“This continued strain is taking its toll on the firefighters, with injuries and sick leave becoming more common, particularly during very busy periods, which further worsens the situation.”
The department wants the council to prioritise funding to fill the posts.
DA councillor Gustav Rautenbach commended the firefighters for their hard work, particularly during the flare-ups last month.
“I salute our firefighters. They have done a sterling job considering the shortage of staff,” he said. “This report is unbelievable. In December, we had all those fires and those men and women worked very hard.”
ANC councillor Andile Mfunda said he was shocked that the coalition government had not prioritised the critical vacancies.
“I thought by now we would not be discussing staff shortages. It is unacceptable that this metro’s leadership has not dealt with critical vacancies.
“This is pathetic. This leadership must deliver on their manifesto promises. How can we have a shortages of 144 firefighters, especially in December when we had big fires?”
Patriotic Alliance councillor Marlon Daniels said he had visited some of the fire scenes and saw how the firefighters were struggling.
“It is beyond me how they managed. However, I am sick and tired of every government department using money as an excuse – this ‘there is no money’ card is not right,” he said.
“People lose their lives because of the fires. This must not be a talk shop.”
Political head of safety and security John Best said the shortage of firefighters was a top priority for the metro.
“I can assure councillors this matter is receiving top priority in the adjustments budget. We are dealing with it as a matter of urgency,” Best said.