South Africa: Working Under Fire - Seasonal Firefighters Thanked After Gruelling Cape Fire Season

The first time pint-sized teenager Amiena Pillay drove in a fire truck, she knew she would one day fulfil her dream of battling infernos in the coveted uniform.

Within four years, she has completed two seasonal firefighting stints and was one of 91 fully-trained members of the 2018 intake whom Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato thanked on Tuesday for doing an "often thankless and dangerous job".

Seasonal firefighters are employed on a five-month contract and assist the City of Cape Town's Fire Services during the increase in wildfires over the summer period, bolstering numbers during the busiest season.

Pillay, 21, got her first taste of fighting fires when she was just 17 and requested to job shadow the team at the Roeland Street Fire Station.

"They allowed me onto the fire engine and I held a charged hose for the first time. Man, was it heavy!" she recalled.

"But right then and there, I forgot about my dream to study psychology. I knew fighting fires was what I wanted to do - it is more physical and really my kind of thing."

Straight out of Grade 12, she tried out for the seasonal firefighting programme.

One of thousands of aspiring candidates, she was put through her paces in a timed run, a reach test, push ups and sit up stints and lugged two dead loads.

Most cherished memory

After making it over that physical hurdle and passing a comprehension and basic maths test, she was given the green light after a medical assessment and drug screening.

This was followed by a four-week wildland firefighting course where recruits were taught the basics of combating vegetation fires, the different types of equipment used for this task, as well as the specific roles and functions of each staff member when responding to a vegetation fire.

Her most cherished memory since putting on her uniform on December 1 was while fighting one of the many blazes on Signal Hill.

She had been accompanying her supervisor to get water when they noticed an unmonitored patch of burning vegetation. Unable to wait for her already burdened team and fearing the fire would spread, she faced up to it herself.

"And I killed it. It was the best experience ever."

Pillay thrives under the pressure of facing an inferno, she said. Tiny burns and being covered in soot at the end of her shift are a small price to pay knowing she potentially saved someone's life or home.

"When I face a fire, I feel a mix of excitement and fear because of the unpredictability of what is to come. But I know what I need to do and I do my part to get it done."

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith thanked the recruits for their service and encouraged the team to apply for vacancies within the fire services once their contracts expire at the end of the month.

While her seasonal stint may soon come to an end, Pillay has applied for an 18-month fire and rescue learnership.

"Firefighting is what I was always destined to do. I may be the shortest in my squad, but I know how to hold my own. I can do everything everyone else can," a feisty Pillay said.

"Gaining this experience and getting a taste for the job confirms that this is where I am meant to be."


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