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​THE head of the emergency management services has 14 years on the job, many in the field. His experience has informed his plans for the department.
THE head of Johannesburg’s emergency management services (EMS),Tshepo Makola, has vivid memories of his first job in the organisation.

EMS Chief Tshepo MakolaEMS Chief Tshepo MakolaThe rookie EMS officer responded to an emergency call in neighbouring Ekurhuleni – and had to help a woman deliver a baby boy, save two victims and deal with a house on fire during his first encounter with fire fighting back in 1997.

“It was a great experience that I will never forget and I feel very thankful that they weren’t any complications and lives lost,” Makola says. He had just completed a year of rigorous training with the Benoni EMS as a fire fighter and emergency medical technician.

Now, after spending more than 14 years in the organisation, Makola knows the EMS like the back of his hand – both its ups and its downs. “The painful part of the job is when children are injured or die during an emergency incident. It is quite difficult to deal with the aftermath of the loss,” he says.

“Danger is inherent in the job, thus we must maintain high levels of safety at all times. Once you get into the vehicle to respond to an emergency you are already in danger,” he points out. “It is important to have passion, love and energy for this job or else you will not cope.”

Executive director
Makola was appointed the executive director of the EMS on 9 December 2011, taking over from Audrey Gule. He had headed the department in an acting capacity since Gule left in July of that year.

“I feel very excited about this new position. Since joining the industry I set my goal on becoming or running this organisation,” he says. “It’s a continuation of the work I was doing last year and I must say it is challenging and at the same time rewarding.”

TrainingTraining will be stepped upHe believes that his desire to improve the lives of people is what has kept him at the EMS for so many years.“I get a lot of joy from helping people and I think that is why I found myself in this industry.”

As the head of the EMS, Makola is responsible for strategising, disaster preparedness, proper maintenance, planning ahead and training in emergency services. “The exciting part of the job is implementing strategies because the result is to have a much safer city driven by communities themselves.”

Before being appointed to head up the department, he was the director of operations.

Makola believes that having an effective team can help an organisation achieve successful results. “A team that is not working together can cause unnecessary disruption, failed delivery and strategic failures.”

And he has plenty of plans for the department, starting with enhancing and expanding training programmes to support the EMS. He envisions an EMS that plays a more proactive role in public safety promotion through educational initiatives such as accident prevention, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation training and public safety.

“We want to create a robust learning centre [BeSafe centres] that will empower and transform communities around the city.”

Speaking of training, Makola mentions the successful community emergency response team (Cert) programme. It promotes a partnership between emergency services and the communities they serve.

The goal is for emergency personnel to train members of neighbourhoods, community organisations and businesses in basic response skills such as fire safety, team organisation and disaster medical operation. “We want to expand this programme to all regions across the city and make sure that by the end of the five-year term, 90 percent of the city’s communities are trained in public safety.”

Shack fires
Shack firesThere are fewer incidents of shack firesMakola is happy that the programme is now bearing fruit, resulting in fewer lives lost and property destroyed in shack fires, especially in areas such as Alexandra, Denver and Ivory Park.“We recently did a survey and discovered that it is delivering real benefits to communities. People are happy with the programme and now understand better how to handle fires.”

The other task on his mind is stabilising the unit’s finance department,which he says is one the biggest challenges at the moment. “My first priority is stabilising the financial aspect of the organisationby embracing a systematic improvement to keep pace with an ever-changing, complex environment.”

His other big concern is the lack of capacity to handle the large volumes of emergency calls the service receives. “We are investigating proactive measures in terms of educating communities to take responsibility for their own safety.”

Other plans include building more fire stations and BeSafe centres, as well as an academy where EMS staff and members of the public will be trained in all aspects of emergency management.

Makola joined the EMS in 1996 as a fire fighter just after completing his matric. Going to university was not an option as his family could not afford it. He had no idea what to expect, but got used to the rigorous training in a short time.

“It all came to me naturally,” he explains. “The training was quite physical as it was my first time to be exposed to such as exhaustive, intense training that tested my tolerance.”

As well as fire fighting and EMS training, Makola has qualifications in advanced business management and fire technology, as well as a Masters in Business Administration. And when it comes to downtime after a long, stressful day, he likes to relax by listening to music.

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