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Safety kits were handed to a group of residents in Zandspruit, who were trained in basic firefighting and first aid by Joburg's EMS.
IN informal settlements in winter, people turn to fire for heating. But this raises the potential for devastating shack fires. In one step to overcome this threat, the City’s emergency management services trains residents to form community emergency response teams.

Residents will use their skills to prevent and fight shack firesResidents will use their skills to fight shack firesFirefighting kits, called Jozi safety kits, were given to 50 residents of Zandspruit informal settlement in the northwest of Joburg on 11 May, to mark the end of their training. They also received certificates in basic firefighting and first aid. The group had attended a week-long course, where they learned essentials skills. The training included fire prevention, first aid, and what to do in an emergency.

Held at the Emthonjeni Community Centre, the handing over of the certificates was attended by the City’s portfolio head of public safety, Matshidiso Mfikoe, and the EMS’s executive director, Tshepo Makola. Each person who had completed the training received a parasafe stove, a water bucket, a smoke alarm, a Burn Shield, bandages, a solar lantern and a one-litre plastic container with a safety cap, to be used to store paraffin.

Mfikoe said her department was concerned about the safety of residents of informal settlements in winter, a time when there was widespread use of braziers, paraffin and other flammable substances. She said community members had been trained to contain large fires while waiting for professional firefighters.

The programme was started in 2008, and community emergency response teams have also been trained in Soweto, Orange Farm and Ivory Park. The EMS has also distributed safety kits to over 800 households in informal settlements.

Mfikoe said since the start of the programme, the number of fires had decreased. “We want to move towards a stage where we don’t really have fires breaking out in the city at all,” she added.

Her spokesperson, Anda Mbikwana, said informal settlements were cluttered, which restricted the movement of ambulances and fire engines in an emergency. “The availability of the ambassadors will be of a great help while the professional helpers are on their way to the scene,” he said.

They are trained in basic firefighting; Stay Alive Till We Arrive (Satwa), which is a basic first aid course; traffic safety management; and domestic violence. Thirty-year-old Gloria Ngwenya was among those who received their certificates. She said she now had basic knowledge about providing basic first aid to an unconscious person.

She had been living in Zandspruit since 1996 and had she received training earlier, she could have saved many lives, Ngwenya said. “We were told to share what we learned with other community members. I have already started teaching my kids and neighbours in case something happens to me so that I can also be helped,” said the mother of two.

The winter safety programme is aimed at reducing unnecessary deaths and loss of property to fire. “These can be prevented if people use proper cooking and lighting equipment and know how to identify the risks in their houses,” said Robert Molaudzi, the EMS media liaison officer.

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