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Introducing Waterfall’s very own Firefighting Service

Fire Ops SA, a private fire brigade service, has made Waterfall its new home!

We chatted with Fire Chief, Wynand Engelbrecht, about the role of Fire Ops SA in Waterfall and gained some valuable insight into fire safety.

What does Fire Ops SA do?

With six bases across Johannesburg, we are primarily a firefighting service, with 21 vehicles and over 60 full-time, highly trained firefighters, who are also rescue specialists in extraction from vehicles and buildings. In addition, we offer fire consultations and fire equipment maintenance services.

Why have you set up in Waterfall?

The Waterfall area is poorly serviced by the Johannesburg Metro, so we were approached by the Waterfall Common Services Company to be on site 24/7 to provide fire and other emergency services to the entire 2 200-hectare Waterfall development.

Where on Waterfall are you based?

We are based on Old Pretoria Road, in the old samosa factory. We have a complete ‘Patch’ (satellite fire station) with a full crew and three service vehicles, namely a rapid intervention vehicle which is the first responder, a fire engine and a large, specialised rescue vehicle. The latter has everything you can think of; Jaws of Life, special cutters, cables, lifting equipment, lines, ropes and diving equipment. The fire engine has breathing apparatus, ladders, fire hoses, and salvage sheets to protect furniture in the burning building – standard firefighting equipment of international standards.

Can you help with other emergencies?

That’s actually what we do. So we are geared for all situations, whether it is an earthquake, a snake in your home, your car swept away by storm water, or your roof being blown off by a hurricane.

What expertise do you bring to Waterfall?

We have a highly skilled team of commanders and officers, all trained in municipal fire services, with over 300 years of service among them.

Can you assist with both residential and commercial fires?

Waterfall has veld and brush, houses, blocks of flats, townhouses, single-family homes, multi-family homes, industrial sites, offices, warehouses – we are geared for all that. When we have a fire, we don’t only dispatch our local Waterfall team, we send teams from at least three Patches simultaneously. In this case, it would be from Rosebank and Dainfern, so at any structural fire on Waterfall, there will vehicles from at least three Patches in attendance.

How can residents or businesses contact the Fire Ops Team in an emergency?

We are a phone call away on 083 622 6026. This number is already listed on the Go Waterfall app under emergency contacts.  The app helps us to get the caller’s coordinates, so that we can respond within minutes. In either case, our policy is that the crews must leave their Patches within a minute of a report received during the day and within 90 seconds at night time, so we will be on-site within 7 minutes or less in Waterfall.

If there is a fire in my house, how would Fire Ops SA tackle it?

We have a unique fire attack philosophy. We use very little water but use extremely high pressure. We carry water on vehicles, and once we arrive on the scene, we determine the location of the fire in the structure. The first attack is by two crew members. Other team members will be looking for pools, fire hydrants, and other water sources. Entry is normally gained through the front door. We request that people leave their homes if there is a fire and keep the door closed until we arrive. Next, we stretch a line into the house and release about 100 litres of water in the shape of water mist or high fog. The flames and heat will absorb most moisture, so there is very little water damage to your property. If necessary, we will ventilate the fire by creating openings in the roof. This is an exercise practised by skilled firefighters.

What if a fire breaks out in one of the tall commercial buildings on Waterfall?

Height actually makes no difference because we tackle the blaze internally. We go in using the escape stairwell and the fireman’s lift, which uses auxiliary power. Any building higher than 30m has a fireman’s lift fitted. The only time we fight a fire externally is if the roof has already collapsed upon our arrival, or in the event of a factory fire due to dangers within the building.

What are the general protocols for evacuating a building on fire?
While there are different approaches to evacuating a house, hospital, mall or office block, in all these cases, every minute counts!

In a family home setup, there are hopefully smoke detectors that will awake or alert the family to the fire. It is essential to have a practised evacuation plan. Exit the house through the front door and close it behind you. Don’t worry about fire extinguishers – just get out. Fire spreads very quickly inside a dwelling. If gas cylinders are involved, let the firefighters handle them.

In an office setting, first evacuate the room that’s on fire. Shut the door. Then evacuate that wing, the full floor, and then the floor above and below it. Firefighters will give further guidance. It is often unnecessary to evacuate an entire office block as it can cause more chaos.

Tips to contain or extinguish everyday residential fires quickly.
If you have a fire on the stove, throw a fire blanket over it. These are inexpensive to buy and work well. You can also use a dry powder fire extinguisher, but often people don’t know how to use it. If you direct the powder into the oil, the oil could splash out and spread the fire. Even if you have managed to extinguish the fire on the stove, call Fire Ops. The fire may be out but not cold. Sometimes the hot air can get into the ceiling void and may flare-up.

If you have an electrical short circuit, get to the DB board and trip the power. This usually trips on its own in a modern home. Then leave the house, shut the door and call Fire Ops. You’ll be able to think clearer outside on the lawn than inside in the smoke. Smoke is dangerous. Always confirm that everyone is out. If we know everyone is out, we can start firefighting immediately. If we are unsure, we need to search and rescue first. Also, if we put water into a building, the smoke turns to steam, which can be even more dangerous for anyone still inside.

The most important thing to remember? Evacuate and close the door.

What should every house have in terms of fire prevention?
Smoke detectors and a fire blanket inside the house, and a 1.5kg dry powder fire extinguisher in the garage. The door between the house and garage is usually a fire door, so each area is protected. Keep a hose pipe connected to the garden tap; this is useful for refilling the fire engines.

In multi-level buildings, we recommend having a rescue fold-up ladder or rope ladder on the top floor with the knowledge of how to use it.

What is the number one mistake when handling a fire?
Opening doors and breaking windows. A fire must be compartmentalised so we can put it out in the room of origin.

Important advice?
Be vigilant. Know how to contact emergency services. Know which emergency contact you need for all traumas and have all the relevant information on hand. Feel free to practice on our app. Know your exits, and get to know all the procedures before an emergency happens. Ask questions. Have these discussions at home and in your office.

Are there any costs involved when Fire Ops extinguishes a fire?
Waterfall pays us a premium for the protection we give. Still, home and building owners will be billed after a fire operation. It can be anywhere between R6 500 to R20 000, sometimes even higher. It depends on the size of the building and the construction materials. It also depends on the time scale. Then, the bill goes straight to the insurance broker. We give them a comprehensive report, including drone pictures. Insurance then pays the home or building owner, who pays us. Every bonded property has insurance, and each policy has fire coverage. In the five years of the company’s existence, we have never had an issue with an insurance claim.

In conclusion, it is an honour to look after life, limb and assets on Waterfall. Our crew is on standby 24/7 in case of any emergency and we are proud to be your community fire service.

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