‘Let’s protect our firefighters’, Newsline

IF the trend of attacks on essential service workers continue, it is likely to have a greater impact on public safety.

The City’s executive director for safety and security Richard Bosman said this after the recent attacks on firefighters in the province.

In the most recent case, a firefighter was robbed at gunpoint in Khayelitsha while attending to an informal structure on fire. The driver of the fire engine was approached by a man who pointed a gun at him and robbed him of a portable radio.

“Between March 2018 and 25 September 2020, there have been at least 20 incidents recorded of attacks on firefighters or Fire and Rescue Service infrastructure.

“This includes attacks on staff, as witnessed in the most recent incident where a firefighter was robbed in Khayelitsha, to burglary at fire stations, stoning and petrol-bombing of service vehicles and firefighters being assaulted while attending to calls.

“There are numerous other incidents that are not documented, where staff decline assistance,” said Bosman.

He added that apart from the physical scars, many staff members also experienced acute stress, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It has become standard practice that firefighters do not enter volatile areas without a police escort. The time spent waiting on an escort should one not be readily available, could mean the difference between a partially damaged home and a completely gutted home, and more importantly, the difference between life and death,” said Bosman.

He said the City would take nesessary steps to protect its staff which will include checking areas twice a day to determine which areas are regarded as being high risk or regarded as a red zone.

“In the case of red zones being identified, staff will only enter with a police escort or with metro police escort. In the event of staff and equipment being attacked, staff are allowed to withdraw and return to their station,” said Bosman.

Khayelitsha ward councillor Anele Gabuza said firefighters were not safe and the community needed to come together to protect them.

“We are living in the same world whereby people are getting robbed when they are doing good services in our communities, but the solution is that they must get escorted when they are providing services to our communities to avoid criminals,” said Gabuza.

Gabuza said he strongly condemned this barbaric tendency.

“Firefighters are our brothers and sisters that are doing good work for our own country as a whole but people don’t appreciate the good work they are providing in the community during the disaster time which we are facing,” said Gabuza.

A few months ago Eskom had to withdraw their operations in parts of Khayelitsha and Mfuleni following two violent incidents.

A company vehicle was stoned and set alight by protesters in Khayelitsha and another in Mfuleni.

Emergency Service (EMS) workers have not been spared as an increase in attacks has been reported this year.

EMS spokesperson Deanna Bessick said last year there were 30 incidents reported for the entire year, while 52 incidents have been reported since the start of this year.

“There are red zone areas which have been identified as areas which SAPS have to escort EMS officials into for them to assist patients. EMS will declare an area as a red zone in the event of occurring staff attacks if there is a spike in violence in the area, unsafe protest action and other contributing factors,” said Bessick.

She said the red zone areas changes regularly and the current permanent red zones were Chicago in Paarl, Beacon Valley, Tafelsig in Mitchell’s Plain and Hanover Park.

Night time red zones, between 6.30pm to 6.30am, include Manenberg, Browns Farm, Nyanga, Gugulethu, Kalksteenfontein, Site C, Harare, Mandela Park, J Section in Lingelethu and Samora Machel.

“There has been one attack on EMS officials since level 1 began and one incident where a child threw a stone at an ambulance.

“We always support these officials in the event when they experience psychological trauma in line with our EMS safety plan. There hasn’t been an increase when comparing the amount of attacks that occurred during level 2 to 5,” said Bessick.