Newcastle’s firefighter challenge and the municipality’s take on it

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The winter season is easing in, bringing along more than just cold weather. As any Northern KwaZulu-Natal resident will attest to, the dry months usher in fire season.

Looking at one town in specific in the region, Newcastle, does the local municipality hold enough staff for this annual challenge? According to the Newcastle Municipality’s Communications Unit, the government entity currently employs 24 operational firefighters to service Newcastle, Madadeni and Osizweni.

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“There are three firefighters on standby at Newcastle. There are three firefighters on duty at Osizweni, and three on standby.” This means that at any given time, there are six firefighters on duty, with an additional six on standby to cover the said areas.

In comparison, Ladysmith, just an hour’s drive from Newcastle, only holds four full-time firefighters. Utrecht, just outside Newcastle has two.  This is according to the latest Emergency Services Yearbook and Buyers Guide. 

Yet, when discussing the volume of reported fires in Newcastle versus a town like Ladysmith the difference is truly notable. 

Ladysmith:

  • Grass/Veld Fires: 82
  • Building Fires: 84
  • Vehicle first: 24
  • Special Services: 3
  • Structural dwelling fire fatalities: 85 

Newcastle:

  • Grass/Veld fires: 467
  • Building fires: 318
  • Vehicle fires: 29
  •  Rescues/Recoveries: 508
  •  Special Services calls: 105

While there are only six firefighters per shift, the Municipality explains it also has two fire safety inspectors who are also qualified, firefighters. These people are ready to assist the operational staff as and when required.

“Furthermore, we have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ArcelorMittal and Karbochem should we require their assistance,” adds the Communications Unit.   

So what is the correct amount of firefighters required?

The Newcastle Municipality said that in order to run at peak efficiency, more firefighters are required. “In terms of SANS10900, we are required to have five firefighters per shift for Newcastle, and four per shift for Osizweni.”

Nevertheless, the shortage of Newcastle firefighters is no new topic, holding a colourful history.

To jog your memory, in November 2019, the Newcastle Municipality pointed out that it employed 38 operational firefighters. However, at the time of the article, 24 firefighters had been suspended and this left two firefighters on duty per shift at Newcastle, and two firefighters on duty per shift in Osizweni.

To read the full article, click here.

The situation, unfortunately, did not improve during 2021. In April 2021, a parliamentary response to questions by the Democratic Alliance (DA) about firefighting capabilities in KwaZulu-Natal revealed gaps and weaknesses in the province’s capacity to protect and assist its citizens in most local municipalities.

At the time, it was pointed out by the KwaZulu-Natal Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) that the Newcastle Municipality employed 24 firefighters, which was 14 less than the previous year.

To read the full article, click here.

In light of the above, the Newcastillian – Online News asked the Newcastle Municipality why there were no drives to employ more firefighters, especially with the current unemployment rate being a challenge.  Additionally, the Communications Unit was asked what was being done to rectify the situation?

Sadly, these two pressing questions were left unanswered. 

With a shortage of firefighters in town, and the Newcastle Municipality relying on ArcelorMittal and Karbochem in times of emergency, what are your thoughts? Share your views in the comment section below.

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