FIRESTORMS that raged through KwaMbonambi and razed the Slovo squatter settlement last year could have benefited from foam-spewing bomber planes and an early warning detection system. This could however be the technique used in the coming years in South Africa, following tests in Cape Town. The Working on Fire (WoF) programme introduced this and many more exciting disaster management techniques at a special course for fire officers at Charter’s Creek, Nyalazi last week. Top disaster management and fire fighting experts from the US and southern African countries participated in the intensive training course, which is aimed at developing skills to reduce the risk to life in a fire, flood, terror attack or natural disaster. This is done by implementing the Incident Command System (ICS). In the US, the ICS has proven highly successful, where disaster teams from various areas can be called in to offer assistance, manpower and resources during times of crisis. It aims to strengthen the national response to disaster management. Methods used include specialised fire fighting initiatives like foam-spewing bomber aircraft that release non-toxic foam which cools down flames and an early warning fire detection system. The warning system was demonstrated by Zululand Fire Protection Services Manager – Trevor Williams, who operates the world’s first computerised camera surveillance of fire areas at their operation centre in KwaMbonambi.
Support Williams said the ideas presented at the course will be taken to the district and local municipalities to get their support. The students were mainly South African timber industry personnel and rescue services managers, with four from Tanzania and one each from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Italy. WoF General Manager – Johan Heine said the ICS provided a national, unified mobilisation of all rescue services during times of attack or even when planning a major event that could be high risk, like the 2010 soccer world cup. ‘It is a structured way of managing multiple resources, using different companies, rescue services, municipalities and material resources like trucks,’ said Heine. ‘It is a streamlined process, united under one command system.’ German Fire Officer – Alex Held, who represents the Global Fire Monitoring Centre, said regional networks were being formed in southern Africa to improve and exchange the resources of neighbouring countries. ‘Through the network, countries that don’t have the system in place can be helped by bordering countries during crisis, eg if Botswana was in trouble, SA members could fly in and help stabilise the situation without wasting time over passports and visa’s and so forth. ‘The bilateral agreements between countries will help and SA is the first developing country to implement this with its neighbours,’ said Held. The course was funded by Germany and the SA Department of Water Affairs and Forestry.