Fire fighter shortage

Today’s Daily News (July 17, 2008) has a story about how critically short of personnel our fire brigade is. The shortage of staff was described as critical and that it’s only a matter of time until people lose their lives as a consequence. This conclusion is reported as having been reached by the councillors on the municipality’s health, safety and social services committee after hearing how desperate things have become. A special report has been ordered.

City manager Mike Sutcliffe is quoted as saying that the fire department is not the only understaffed one. The municipality is apparently sitting at a staffing level of 50-55% of what is required, and it would apparently take a 100% increase in rates over the next three years to get things right. Sutcliffe admitted that ratepayers are already squeezed pretty tightly.

Some fire stations in Durban only have two people on duty at any one time. Not even enough, as the Daily News comments, to hold a ladder properly. The councillors apparently slammed fire officials for the huge backlog of uncompleted fire inspections. Well, duh!! What do they expect when the brigade has 20 people doing that job where there should probably be 200? The councillors are apparently up in arms about the staffing levels and small fines handed out to owners of buildings which violate the fire code. The brigade doesn’t make the laws and I would have thought the councillors would have known that.

I cannot for one moment believe that the committee has only just heard how bad the situation is when I, who am by no means an insider, have known for well over a year. I did a story on the brigade for the ratepayer’s magazine Metrobeat over a year ago and the fire chief was quite open about his problems, saying that the situation was serious.

The city manager admits that the ratepayer is squeezed pretty tightly but doesn’t seem to mind spending money on inessentials like a huge white elephant of a soccer stadium directly across the road from a perfectly good one. Other municipal wastes of time and money include bailing out Ushaka Marine World, to the tune of millions every year, and payments to a transport operator which, clearly, is not up the job.

And how about the costs associated with street renaming? I wonder how many citizens would have voted for that, or any of the other examples mentioned, if they had been given the choice of that or a couple more firemen. A street with a new name is not going to be going to be hauling your butt out of a burning building and most people, except ANC councillors, would easily realise this. We’re in big trouble and the worst part is that I don’t see any sign things improving.

Other snippets in today’s news include:

** Residents of the Kennedy Road informal settlement in Clare Estate have been complaining, after being burned out, that they have no prospect of formal housing even after living for 30 years in shacks. A spokesman of the Department of Local Government, Traditional Affairs and Housing, Lennox Mabaso, said that the department had not failed the residents and that S’bu Zikode, president of the KwaZulu Natal Shack Dwellers Association, should educate his people about fire safety instead of talking the whole time.

** Next week will see a final decision on the fate of the Ocean Sports Centre on the beach. As has been mentioned in these columns before, the un-lovely complex was due for demolition but parts of it may be saved under new plans.

** The central reference library and Don Africana Library have reopened in Liberty Life Towers after having been closed for six months. It’s hard to imagine but the libraries were closed after the lease agreement ran out and no alternative location had been found. No details were given in the story but an accomodation must have been arrived at with the building’s owners.


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