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Hotshots share their skills abroad

Written by Dale Hes

South African government-funded programme Working on Fire (WoF) continues to grow from strength to strength, empowering local firefighters and even giving them a chance to work overseas. 

Since this  successful Expanded Public Works Programme was established in 2003, its firefighters have been deployed overseas three times, to Indonesia and Canada.

Recently Canada made an urgent call for WoF’s assistance to put out a huge fire that was destroying thousands of hectares of land.

About 40 WoF firefighters were deployed to the country and spent almost 30 days battling the blaze.

For most of the crew – called the WoF Wolfpack Hotshots, this was the first time they had been overseas.

Tonic Mahlare (34) from Limpopo was one of the firefighters deployed to Canada.

“The firefighting was very different because it was an underground fire; in South Africa, we are used to fighting grass and ground fires. At one moment, you might be stepping right on the fire without even knowing about it, so it was a learning experience,” said Mahlare.

Mahlare began with WoF in 2011 and has since been promoted to a Crew Leader.

“WoF has given me many opportunities, including skills development and leadership skills. I would really encourage young people to become a firefighter, because it is not only about fighting fires, it is also helping the community by teaching them about the dangers of fire.”

WoF Managing Director Trevor Abrahams, who also joined the team in Canada, said that international deployments provide learning opportunities and work experience.

“The exposure to new techniques, approaches, equipment and the novelty of fighting underground fires have greatly enhanced the skills set of the South African WoF Hotshots team.”

Abrahams added that the firefighters also had the opportunity to experience Canada and its people and to share South African culture with their hosts.

“Their singing quickly became widely acclaimed, with the team regularly serenading firefighters who were celebrating their birthdays on the fire line,” said Abrahams, adding that the team made South Africa proud.