Firefighting is more than just a job, say veterans

Firefighter Noble McHelm began his career at Goodwood fire station in 2011.

Noble McHelm’s passion for firefighting burns deep, and this veteran Goodwood firefighter traces it back to the stories his father told him as a boy.

“My father was a firefighter for the City of Cape Town, and, just like all boys, we grow up wanting to walk in our father’s footsteps,” he says.

Enthralled by his father’s descriptions of his experiences as a firefighter, Mr McHelm says it was an easy decision for him to join the fire department.

May 4 is International Firefighters’ Day when the world takes a moment to recognise the sacrifices made by men and women who are prepared to enter a burning building or endure the blistering heat, ash and embers of a forest fire to save lives and property.

And it’s not only flames, smoke and falling debris that firefighters have to contend with, says Mr McHelm, who has been at the Goodwood fire station since 2011.

“Some challenges we face as firefighters are visiting informal settlements to attend to shack fires and getting there only to be sworn at and stoned. People tend to think that we take too long to get to the scene, when, in fact, our response times are monitored, and if we don’t leave our station within a certain time, we can get disciplined accordingly.”

Firefighting, he adds, is as much a battle against flame as it is against time.

“In the fire service, all emergencies and their extent are dependent on our time of arrival. Therefore we must be urgent when responding to calls. Most of the time, the people are phoning the incorrect numbers or the one person is waiting and expecting the other to make the call to the fire department.”

The job has its difficulties, but it also has its rewards including the gratitude he gets from those he helps, he says.

“Whether it be a rescue, saving property or salvaging someone’s valuables at a scene, our experience, training and development allow us the confidence to do things that others would deem as brave and courageous when, in fact, we are only doing our jobs. When joining the fire department, we are told that this is not only a job or career, this is a calling.”

Goodwood fire station’s commander, Morne Haskell, joined the City fire department in 2003.

“As as a youngster, my dream was to join the fire department and to drive a fire engine. I love helping people and being able to make a difference by serving the public.”

He says that while firefighting can be dangerous, he still finds it rewarding, knowing that the work he does saves lives.

The City’s fire department was able to respond to 8 202 vegetation fires between November 2021 and April 2022 thanks to the 40 seasonal firefighters who were recruited for the summer season, according to mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.

“This is in addition to the thousands of emergency calls to which the Fire and Rescue Service responds throughout the year, 22 632 to be exact, between May 2021 and 28 April this year.”

Goodwood fire station commander Morne Haskell.