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Firefighter disabled after dangerous exercise approaches court in quest for higher rank

A Firefighter permanently disabled after his department forced him to partake in a dangerous exercise, approached the Constitutional Court as he could not complete a physical assessment. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

A Firefighter permanently disabled after his department forced him to partake in a dangerous exercise, approached the Constitutional Court as he could not complete a physical assessment. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Published Apr 1, 2022

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Pretoria - A Firefighter permanently disabled after his department forced him to partake in a dangerous exercise, approached the Constitutional Court as he could not complete a physical assessment in order to apply for a higher rank.

Adam Damons wanted the City of Cape Town to lower the level of the physical assessment so that he stood a chance.

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The metro, however, maintained firefighting was a tough job for which a certain level of physical fitness was required and it could not lower its standards for Damons.

He then turned to the Constitutional Court on the basis the City discriminated against him as a disabled person.

He had earlier taken the matter to the Labour Court, which agreed with him this amounted to unfair discrimination.

On appeal by the City, the Labour Appeal Court overturned the Labour Court’s decision and noted he could not perform the essential tasks of an active firefighter, and it was not in the public interest to have firefighters who were not capable of dealing with the outbreak of fires.

A majority judgment of the Constitutional Court also did not find in favour of Damons. The court found the metro had reasonably accommodated Damons, not in the post of a senior firefighter to which he seeks to be advanced, but in an alternative post.

The court said he was excluded from the fire and rescue section as he could not meet the inherent requirement of physical fitness.

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Finding in favour of the City, the court said this was a complete defence to a claim of unfair discrimination.

Damons said he had chosen a career as a firefighter, and it was always his dream of advancing to a senior position. But this was shattered when he was injured on duty.

The injury occurred because the City of Cape Town, his employer, disregarded safety measures during a fire drill. This accident permanently disabled him from undertaking strenuous physical activity, and he cannot carry anything heavier than 10kg.

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As physical fitness is an inherent requirement of the job of an operational firefighter, he cannot successfully complete the assessment.

The drill that resulted in his injuries and eventual permanent disability differed from ordinary drills. A disagreement between the officer in charge of the drill and one of the firefighters resulted in all participating firefighters being punished.

Instead of carrying mannequins or test dummies on their backs while completing the ascent and descent in the drill tower, they were required to carry their fellow firefighters.

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Ignoring Damons’s warning that the action was unsafe, his safety officer instructed him to get onto another trainee’s back. That person could not carry him and fell from the second to the first floor.

He was subsequently employed to do administrative and educational work.

He retained his designation as a firefighter and salary level, although he was unable to perform the operational function of fighting fires.

He agreed to the transfer if his current remuneration package, as well as future promotion opportunities, remained in place.

Pretoria News

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