22 Feb
2018
Fighting for you

We take you inside the Gillitts Fire Station to find out what makes the busiest sub-station in the Durban Metro tick

story sandy woods
pictures heidi christie

We don’t only rescue cats. Everyone asks if we do,” says Dallas Danielsen, one of the station commanders at Gillitts Fire Station. He explains that his experienced firefighting team deals with rescues of all kinds, as well as a large portfolio of other dangerous activities.

“We don’t see ourselves as heroes. We are highly-trained professionals. When other people are running out, we want to run in. It’s easy for us. We are trained, we’ve got the gear and when you know what to do, it makes it easier,” Dallas says.

This committed group are responsible for an enormous area radiating out from Hillcrest. The proximity of busy highways, nearby industry, tracts of open veld and the large number of thatched houses means that there is not much downtime for them. As the busiest sub-station in the Durban Metro, the team responds to approximately 750 call-outs every year and, because of this great need, four teams of four firefighters are rotated through two daily shifts.

Our Durban Metro firefighters wear imported tunics and pants that comprise three layers of specially-manufactured fabric and are designed to protect the fighter for a maximum of five minutes of direct flame. The breathing apparatus contains 300 bars of compressed air (the equivalent of 150 tyres) per cylinder. “This will last 35 minutes, depending on your fitness level and exertion rate. Firefighters don’t always work on their feet. You’ll be crawling, rolling and climbing through things. You’ll be up and down, especially when you’re fighting a ship fire. You don’t know where you are sometimes. I’ve had calls where I didn’t know if I was standing up. You get disorientated,” says Dallas.

Once the steel-toecap boots, helmet and breathing apparatus are pulled on, the firefighter will be carrying an extra 26kg into a burning building.

For Candice Clarke, the only female on the Gillitts A-Shift, she will be carrying an extra two-thirds of her body weight as she goes into action. She explains that her small size can be an advantage as she can easily squeeze into small spaces or peer underneath objects. “The fire doesn’t care if you’re male or female,” she says. It is less about physical strength and more about fitness. “Cardio-fitness will make or break you. We work as a team, so what I’m lacking, my other teammates will have.”

The firefighters are expected to do two hours of gym and cardio daily to remain fire-fit. Therefore, a comprehensive gym is set up next to the fire-truck in the foyer of the firehouse.

Due to its NDM 4664 number plate, the resident Gillitts’ fire-truck is fondly christened “Lil Madiba”. Described as “the ultimate mobile toolbox” with good reason, every conceivable tool is neatly stowed in its side compartments. Fire-trucks commonly carry various hose nozzles including a foam inductor (which mixes water and foam) and a dividing breeching (which allows two lines to run off one water supply). A positive pressure fan is used to draw and push smoke out of a burning building and the Jaws of Life is a hydraulic spreading tool used to prise open collapsed metal in car accidents. Oversized bolt cutters, equipment for chemical spills and EMS equipment complete the inventory.

Firefighters are required to gear up and exit the firehouse within 30 seconds of a daytime call-out and 45 seconds of a night-time call-out. The extra 15 seconds allow the night shift to rouse themselves from the rudimentary dorms near the back of the building. With close quarter living and the daily dangers of firefighting, this team has forged tight bonds that go deeper than most.

As Dallas says of his team, “It’s your family and this is your house.”

 

WHAT TO DO IN AN EMERGENCY

  • RAISE THE ALARM. CALL 031 361 0000.
  • ALERT EVERYONE IN THE HOUSE.
  • STAY LOW. STAY BELOW THE SMOKE, WHICH IS TOXIC AND WILL CAUSE DISORIENTATION.
  • CLOSE THE DOORS BEHIND YOU AS YOU LEAVE TO SLOW THE FIRE DOWN.
  • KEEP YOUR HOUSE KEYS AND REMOTES IN THE SAME CENTRAL LOCATION, SO THEY CAN EASILY BE FOUND BY ANY FAMILY MEMBER.
  • STOP, DROP AND ROLL IF YOUR CLOTHES CATCH ALIGHT.
  • DO NOT GO BACK INTO THE HOUSE ONCE YOU’VE EXITED.
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