Need for Fire Awareness
City appeals for fire-awareness in informal areas
The City’s Fire and Rescue Service recorded fewer incidents involving fires in informal settlements in 2009 compared to previous years. This is despite an increase in the number of dwelling units in informal settlements, resulting in densification which affects the Service’s ability to access certain areas in the quickest possible time. The causes of the fires vary from the illegal use of electricity to heating and cooking devices malfunctioning and igniting the materials used for the building of the dwelling. Isolated cases of arson have also been recorded.
According to the City’s Fire Chief, Ian Schnetler, the number of responses to informal dwelling units over the last year has decreased by 193 incidents and the number of dwelling units affected has also decreased by 832. A total of 3 780 individual informal dwelling units out of approximately 84 000 were affected by fires in 2009. These range from units in informal settlements, to informal units in the backyards of formal dwellings. The number of informal structures in the yards of formal dwelling units appears to be increasing at a rapid rate.
“If one takes into context the number of dwelling units affected in 2005, which was recorded at 8 864, then the City has gone a long way to reducing this by more than half over the last four years, and we will strive to reduce it even further over the years to come,” said Schnetler. Recognising the need to educate people of the danger of fires the City’s Disaster Risk Management Department distributed awareness pamphlets to informal settlement areas prior to and during the fire season. The distribution of awareness pamphlets is part of a campaign started by the staff of Disaster Risk Management in October 2008 and is ongoing. It aims to create awareness among residents and provide practical tips on how they can reduce their vulnerability to fires.
In an attempt to improve the City’s fire fighting ability in informal settlements and to alleviate the effect of densification in these areas, seven new fire engines (with 4 x 4 capabilities) were acquired late last year which are specifically designed to assist fire fighters in mountainous and informal settlement areas. These have been deployed effectively, and staff are carrying out pro-active inspections of informal and other areas to recognise risk areas and pre-plan effectively.
The City has repeatedly appealed to members of the public to be careful of starting fires, to be vigilant and to report fires if they spot them. “We appeal to people to be sensible with regards to fires, and report fires immediately if they are seen. There is a general tendency when people see fires to think that someone else has reported it, but if they report it quickly, it means we can respond quickly,” said Schnetler. There are also prohibitions in place on the making of fires in the open air across the Western Cape, due to extraordinary fire hazards. This includes the burning of rubbish or any other material for purposes of disposal – this action is illegal.
A few important tips on how to reduce the risk of fires include:
- Every home needs at least one exit route which will enable the occupants to escape should a fire break out.
- Keep matches, lighters, paraffin and poisons in a safe place that is not accessible to children.
- Keep stoves on a flat surface, away from draughts and anything that could catch fire.
- Open fires and stoves should never be left unattended.
- Extinguish candles and paraffin lamps before you go to sleep or leave your home.
- Smoking in bed is dangerous.
- Keep a bucket of water and a bucket of sand ready to extinguish any fires that break out.
- If a paraffin stove catches alight, extinguish the flames with sand rather than water.
- Turn off the electricity at the mains before trying to extinguish an electric fire.
Issued by: Communication Department, City of Cape Town Media enquiries: Ian Schnetler, Chief Fire Officer, City of Cape Town, Tel: 021 590 1738 or Cell: 084 220 0214 Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, Manager: Systems Integration and Special Projects, Disaster Risk Management Centre, Cell: 084 711 7709
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