Working on Fire praised after expedition in Canada

Working on Fire continues to make strides towards becoming a leading agency in integrated fire management following its successful expedition in Manitoba, Canada, recently.

Early in August, 109 firefighters and management from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environments’ Working on Fire were deployed to Manitoba to assist provincial firefighting authorities with wildland firefighting efforts.

Following the successful mission, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, has praised the South Africans for their “professionalism and high-performance standards expressed by Canadian authorities”.

She said the vote of confidence was indicative of the success of the Working on Fire programme and its capabilities in Integrated Fire Management over the past 18 years.

“This was by far one of the most successful international deployments and indeed a huge vote of confidence in the South African Government’s Expanded Public Works Programme, Working on Fire. These young men and women represented our country with pride and dignity, their work ethic, professionalism, and fitness levels were highly regarded in Canada,” Creecy said.

SAnews caught up with Agency Representative (AREP) from Working on Fire, Antoinette Jini, who was responsible for leading the teams and maintaining the discipline and wellbeing and safety of the fire fighters.

Sharing her experience, Jini said that upon deployment she felt valued and trusted by the program for such a responsibility which she will forever be grateful for.

Her responsibilities on the mission included building a relationship between the Incident Management Team (IMT) and South African deployees.

“My continuous engagement with IMT was very critical. I joined the IMT meetings in the morning and evenings or at any other point in time as the need arises. I had to join hands in achieving the objectives of the Incident Command (IC) and make sure the assignments assigned to my teams are met accordingly,” Jini said.

Jini said that the experience she attained back home played a critical role in assisting their efforts to stop the wildland fires in Manitoba.

“Being an operational manager played a critical role in contributing on the objectives of the incident. I had to understand their fire behaviour first and I would be able to play my role. The refresher training that was done prior to our departure from SA was never in vain.

“On arrival in Winnipeg we went through an orientation on camping because this time around teams would camp next to the fire lines assigned to them and this helped in teams being able to meet the set targets on the day,” she said.

Jini proudly said that South African resources were used effectively to assist in extinguishing the fires and teams worked independently with little supervision from the Canadians.

“Teams were used very effectively on the fire lines assigned to them. We had five divisions: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo. These divisions were placed in different areas in the Cold Lake Fire Complex.

“Each division had 20 crew members led by one strike team leader. Each team had an allocated pump operator and chain saw operators. Our teams worked independently with very little supervision from Canadians. Our teams could maintain the pump machine without delaying the operations by waiting for the Canadians to assist. We recorded zero injuries on the fire line,” Jini said.

Jini applauded the professionalism on how things were conducted including risk assessments which were conducted prior to any task.

She described this as a proud moment for the fire fighters and everyone who was deployed on the mission.

“We are very proud with countless words for accomplishing the assignment and being trusted by the country for such objectives. We will continue serving regardless of the circumstances. One of the values of the Working on Fire is Adaptability and I think we did just that,” Jini said.

Jini expressed her gratitude to all who played a role from the Canadian teams (the Incident Command, to the kitchen staff who looked after the team) for the consistent appreciation of the South African team, the teamwork demonstrated and for lessons imparted during this deployment whilst maintaining focus on the objectives of the assigned work.