Working on Fire is one of government's most successful job creation and skills development programmes. It helps to fight poverty by giving jobs and skills to unemployed men and women from rural areas.
Working on Fire (WoF) was started as part of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to create jobs. It is supported by the Department of Water Affairs, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, as well as private sector partners.
The programme is carried out by the Forest Fire Association (FFA), which was started by the South Africa Forestry industry to fight wild fires in South African plantations. Wild fires are any uncontrolled fires that start in the countryside, in the wilderness or in protected natural areas.
More than half of the people who are trained in fire fighting have never had jobs or training before. Many have not completed secondary school and are the sole income earners in their households.
WoF employs more than 1 600 people between the ages of 18 and 35. Those who have successfully completed the programme are employed by local authorities, local governments or private companies.
Training involves standard firefighting procedures, safety rules, attack methods and how to use firefighting tools and equipment, like pumps and hoses. Trainees also get fitness training. This is important to help them cope with the demands of the job, which include long hours of fighting fires in mountains, forestry plantations, and grasslands throughout the country.
There are daily physical training sessions and job-related lectures on first-aid and fire behaviour, as well as life-skills courses on topics like HIV and AIDS awareness.
Teams are also taught to look out for themselves and for each other, and that safety procedures are extremely important.
Once trained, the fire fighters are placed in teams of between 10 and 25 people at 74 bases throughout the country. The firefighters help partner organisations, such as SANparks, CapeNature, and local municipalities to fight wild fires in their areas.
Apart from fire fighting, members of the programme also spread prevention message in communities. They visit schools and attend community gatherings to teach people how to manage wild fires.
WoF also co-operates with firefighting agencies in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. They share knowledge and develop fire-fighting techniques.
Working on Fire International, also has partner agencies in Zambia and supports wild-fire fighting initiatives throughout the African continent.
- Samona Murugan
For more information on WoF, call 021 797-5787 or visit www.workingonfire.org