Firefighters provide disaster management training in South Africa

Above: An Incident Management Team working in South Africa. Photo courtesy of Etienne du Toit.

From April 24 to May 12 the International Programs office put on 27 disaster management courses in southern Africa countries in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). The courses covered topics on the Incident Command System and National Incident Management System for over 200 trainees from South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Twenty trainers—Forest Service employees and retirees, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation employees, New York Fire Department employees and South African colleagues—delivered the courses.

Since 2009, the Forest Service and OFDA have worked together to build the capacity of South African disaster responders with a focus on fire management. Since the program began, over 4,000 fire personnel have received training from the Forest Service in both South Africa and the United States. Some of the program’s early trainees are now acting as trainers in the region.

This training led to the creation of a firefighting team that in 2015 was deployed to Canada. South African Incident Management Teams have also assisted with flooding in Malawi and Mozambique and wildfires in Indonesia and Chile.

In 2014 the program broadened to encompass all-hazard emergency preparedness and expanded to two more countries in southern Africa: Namibia and Botswana.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Eric.
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Three fires near Cape Town, SA on Tuesday

There were reports that strong winds contributed to the rapid spread of the wildfires.

On Tuesday Firefighters in South Africa were battling three fires in the Cape Town area near Rome Glen, Radloff and Sir Lowry’s Pass. In addition to the video below, you can check out Ian Kitney’s photos at his Kingdom Photography Facebook page.

South African firefighters reportedly asked to leave Canada

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and Alberta’s Premier, Rachel Notley are both intervening in an attempt to resolve the controversy.

A South African news agency, News24, is reporting that the 300 firefighters sent from their country to assist with the wildfires in Alberta have been asked by Canada to go home. The agency also reports that the firefighters are saying they will not leave until they receive the money they have been demanding.

Below is an excerpt from an article at News24:

Jenni Evans, News2

Cape Town – Canada has asked South Africa’s singing firefighters to go home after an internal pay dispute could not be resolved, Working on Fire said on Saturday.

”The Canadian government has asked us to get them out of Canada as soon as possible,” said Johan Heine, chairperson of the board of Working on Fire.

But Heine said the team has indicated that they will not leave until they receive confirmation that their pay demands will be met.

”They are demanding their money before they leave, and [that they] get confirmation that they get more money.”

”We all feel very terrible about it,” said Heine, who has been a firefighter for 30 years.

A Working on Fire management team arrived in Edmonton, Canada on Saturday morning and would travel with a South African embassy official to Alberta where they are based, to negotiate and pick a date for their return.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported online that Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley promised to intervene.

CBS quoted Notley as saying that it was not acceptable to her and her government that they would have people working for wages in that do not align with their labour laws.

She said every firefighter from South Africa or anywhere else would be compensated “in accordance with our laws in this province.”

The Peninsula, a Qatar newspaper, has a similar report.

South African firefighters in Alberta embroiled in pay dispute

The 300 firefighters that arrived in Alberta, Canada on May 29 to assist with the huge fire near Fort McMurray refused to work Wednesday over a dispute about their pay. When they were first deployed the Globe and Mail wrote:

After a month in Canada, they will take home the equivalent of about $1,500 each. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s 10 times more than their normal monthly stipend in the training program. It will help many of the firefighters to get out of shacks and build new brick houses, get driver’s licenses or enter postsecondary education.

Below is an excerpt from an article at CBCNews on Wednesday:

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“…Bitiro Moseki is one of the firefighters based at a camp north of Fort McMurray. He said they are being paid $15 a day.

“It’s fifteen not even per hour, it’s fifteen per day,” said Moseki.

While that may seem hard to believe, given that Alberta expects to move to a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2018, a contract thought to be between the firefighters and their employer seems to back up the claim.

It shows the firefighters signed a contract that stated they would be paid a total of $50 a day, split into two payments.

The contract agrees to pay them $15 a day now, with the balance of $35 a day paid out within six months of their return to South Africa.

Moseki agreed firefighters did sign the contract, but said they have since been unsettled by media reports claiming they’re making much more money.

He said news articles quoted the South African government program that employs the crews claiming the workers are making between $15 and $21 an hour.

“We are not here for money, we are here to assist you,” said Moseki, adding the firefighters have turned to the South African commissioner in Canada for help to resolve the issue.

The contract does make it clear the money the firefighters are being paid is over and above their home wages, which were not disclosed.

The provincial government confirmed the South African firefighters did not work Wednesday because of the pay dispute.

“We contract with the South African government based on a rate per day per firefighter,” Alberta Agriculture and Forestry said in a statement. “We’re paying the rate. It’s our understanding these firefighters are being paid what they agreed to before they arrived. But if there is a disagreement here, it’s between the firefighters and their employer and not with the Government of Alberta.”

The ministry said the firefighters are employed by the Government of South Africa…”

300 firefighters from South Africa arrive in Alberta

The 300 South African firefighters that were requested to help suppress the huge fire at Fort McMurray arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Sunday after a 24-hour journey. If their enthusiasm displayed upon their arrival at the Edmonton airport (below) is indicative of their productivity on the fireline, they will be a valuable resource.

The men and women were selected from 5,000 that have been part of the Working On Fire (WoF) program in South Africa. The government-funded organization changes the lives of unemployed South African youths by training them to become firefighters.

South Africa To Alberta map

In addition to the standard instruction they received in the WoF curriculum, the 300 chosen for the deployment went through a 10-day boot camp taught by Canadian trainers before they left Africa.

Below is an excerpt from an article at The Globe and Mail:

…With a shortage of water and specialized equipment here, the South African firefighters often use “firebeaters” – wooden sticks with a leather pad attached – to beat out a bush fire. But at their boot camp this month, the South Africans learned new water-handling techniques for the Canadian fires.

Those who were chosen for the latest mission are the fittest and most skilled of the 5,000 in the organization. After a month in Canada, they will take home the equivalent of about $1,500 each. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s 10 times more than their normal monthly stipend in the training program. It will help many of the firefighters to get out of shacks and build new brick houses, get driver’s licences or enter postsecondary education.

At a farewell ceremony on Saturday at their temporary camp near Johannesburg, the 300 firefighters danced and sang the morale-building songs that they sing daily in the bush. “We are confident, we are excited,” they sang in the Zulu language.

The firefighters were mostly recruited from rural areas with high unemployment. So as part of their final preparations before flying to Canada, they were given a two-day course in financial management, to help them avoid making mistakes with their limited wages.

“For them, just to get to an international airport is a life-changing experience,” said Llewellyn Pillay, managing director of Working on Fire. “To put them on a plane and send them to a foreign country fundamentally changes their lives.”

A backburn in South Africa

We looked up “Strandveld” on Wikipedia:

Cape Flats Dune Strandveld is an endangered vegetation type. This is a unique type of Cape Strandveld that is endemic to the coastal areas in Cape Town, including the Cape Flats.