eThekwini firefighters short of protective gear, order given 'not to respond to emergencies'
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DURBAN - THE eThekwini Municipality is said to be faced with a shortage of protective equipment for firefighters that has left many of them unable to perform key functions in their jobs.
Speaking to The Mercury on condition of anonymity, a firefighter said an order was given recently to firefighters not to respond to emergencies if they did not have the proper safety equipment.
In the context of the fire department, the protective equipment is also referred to as PPE (personal protective equipment).
The municipality yesterday denied the shortage. But opposition parties and labour unions claimed to be aware of the issue. The Mercury has also seen correspondence said to be between union officials and officials in the fire unit, in which the unit’s officials state that they had submitted all relevant documents for fire PPE procurement on September 28 to the supply chain unit for the procurement process to begin.
Furthermore, a report which was filed with the municipal executive committee by the emergency services unit last month, in which it requested funds for overtime pay, elaborated on the issue of staff shortages, and said that the recruitment of 96 firefighters would be finalised as soon as the procurement of uniforms and PPE was finalised.
The unit has almost half of the staff complement it needs to function optimally. The current complement of only 457 staff falls far short of the total of 827 operational firefighters required.
A firefighter said lack of uniforms and protective equipment had been an ongoing problem for the past five years.
“What is happening now is that a person would be on duty, and if they did not have the PPE and there is an incident, another person who has the equipment would be called in to work overtime. This is causing a lot of friction in the unit,” said the source.
DA councillor Sithembiso Ngema said he was recently briefed by one of the firefighters on the crisis.
“Another problem is that if another emergency situation like the one that played out during the looting arises, eThekwini could burn to the ground because at the current level, the firefighters will not be able to cope,” he said.
Ngema said the shortages were a dire indictment on the municipality’s procurement process.
DA councillor Yogis Govender said some fire stations in eThekwini faced imminent closure as firefighters battled with available resources, reporting for duty with no proper uniforms and inadequate fire PPE, and having to contend with defective fire engines, inadequate staffing, an inadequate supply of oxygen cylinders, defective breathing apparatus and compressors that had not been serviced.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said: “It is embarrassing that such an important unit could have a shortage of PPE; this could make the workers drag their feet.”
He said the fire department had a small budget while the city spent money on vanity projects, like sponsoring soccer teams, in the name of marketing.
Labour union, the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu), said it had been engaging with the municipality on the issue.
Imatu provincial leader Queen Mbatha said the slow procurement process was always blamed for the issue.
EThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said: “As far as we know, fully resourcing our emergency personnel is a high priority and under no circumstances will the city neglect emergency personnel.
“To our knowledge, all our staff/personnel have adequate tools of the trade and they are ready to respond to any emergency without any impediments.”