Anger as ‘experienced’ reservist firefighters replaced by ‘inexperienced’ ones

Despite not having their contracts renewed in August, 12 experienced reservist firefighters were called upon to help with the latest fires in the Western Cape.

No fewer than 12 reservist firefighters, some of whom had 10 years of experience with the Knysna fire department, were ”let go” at the end of August after the municipality had not renewed their contracts. Some were allegedly replaced by inexperienced reservists, according to a woman who contacted the Knysna-Plett Herald in mid-October and wished to remain anonymous.

Geuren Hendricks, a friend of some of the reservists, confirmed this and added that the reservists should not be named as it could prove detrimental to their future employment prospects, among other issues. These 12 reservists have between three and 10 years’ experience, but were replaced by three new reservists allegedly lacking in competency, he said.

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The reservists’ contracts ended without the possibility of renewal on August 31, said Hendricks, which now leaves them both frustrated and angry with the fire department and municipality.

“How are these guys going to support their families now? Some of them have higher qualifications than even the permanent firefighters,” he added.

“The fire department probably does not want to sustain the cost of higher-qualified individuals… But at what cost have they been let go? In the event of another disaster, will the new reservists possess the necessary skill set?”

On October 29, a fire spread through Farleigh and Karatara between Knysna and Sedgefield, and beyond, claiming the lives of eight people and destroying thousands of hectares of plantations and property, and a still unconfirmed number of structures. In the days following the inferno, Knysna-Plett Herald received more messages and calls from incensed community members wanting to know how the municipality could allow these reservists to go, especially after the June 2017 disaster.

“Then, when things got rough during the (most recent) fires, the reservists were called in again to assist. These firefighters deserve to be reinstated and made permanent. The recent volatility in weather patterns and the proliferation of fires in the area have left our town exposed to greater dangers than ever before. We need these talented individuals on our side and in our corner.”

Municipal feedback
According to the municipality, the reservists were on a 12-month contract which was not renewed.

“They obtained qualifications through their own efforts and funding and we applaud them for it, but the fact is that there are currently no vacancies within the fire department,” it said.

It confirmed that three other reservists were appointed on a three-month contract. “They currently form part of a new recruitment process for reservists on a contract basis until the end of the current financial year (30 June 2019).”

Regarding the 12 volunteers being called back to duty during the recent fires, the municipality said the acting fire chief at the time requested their assistance.

“They volunteered their services with the understanding that they will not be compensated.”

The municipality added that it was extremely grateful to all the volunteers and stakeholders who “gave themselves to assist”.

“We are once again humbled by the selflessness of our residents and other stakeholders who didn’t hesitate for one moment in offering their much-needed assistance.”

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