Why Fire-fighters are not heroes.

There is no place for a hero in a fire.

Fire fighting is about team work, training, physical fitness and endurance. It is about respect for, & understanding of fire & fire behaviour.

Fire-fighters are not glory seekers who want to be heroes, they are dedicated men and women with a calling.

Most fire fighters I know, full time and volunteers, are humble people who have a fascination and passion for fires and firefighting. Many of them display a strong sense of community service and you will often find they are involved in other ways, either as volunteers for other organisations, or active on committees  in whatever their particular hobby or sport is.

Right now, the work of the VWS may appear glamorous and exciting with many people wanting to do what  they are doing.

 The reality is that a fire on this scale only comes around every 5 – 10 years.

The members of VWS spend many more hours doing training, standby duty, refresher courses and fitness skills than they do fighting fires. This requires a high degree of dedication and commitment. In my opinion it is this dedication that makes them heroes.  They give up their free time so that when a fire like this occurs, they are trained, ready and willing to take leave from their jobs to do what must be done.


The fire fighters in the full time employment of the City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services do what we are seeing now on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, and more. Often on a smaller scale, and out of the public eye, many times more dangerous than what we are seeing in this fire.

Over and above wildfires, they also contend with countless veld fires that can take hours to put out, burning houses, runaway shack fires, false alarms, incidents regarding hazardous materials and burning factories.

Fire and Rescue workers are also trained in basic life support and part of their job is attending motor vehicle accidents. They have to keep their spirits up when being faced with death, tragedy and danger on a regular basis.


There is no place for a “hero” who wants to run into a burning building to rescue the little child, or the fire fighter who breaks away from his crew to  run down a ravine to rescue Bambi. This behaviour puts the entire fire crew at risk. Fire fighting is about teamwork, obeying orders, and being in a frightening situation while staying calm, thinking clearly and putting the hours of training and studying into practice.


The unseen side of the City of Cape Town fire fighters are the hours and hours of drills and practice, the cleaning of the station and vehicles, sitting watch answering calls between midnight and 4 am and dealing with abuse, stoning of vehicles and disruptive bystanders when at calls.  It is the abandoning of the supper they have just cooked at the station to respond to a call. It is busy shifts when they run out of clean gear and spend 12 hours in wet clothes. It is the effort required while off duty to maintain the fitness levels required to do the job effectively.



How you can help after the media hype is over.

It is great when they are loved by all when the attention of everyone is on the fire.

  •  Please spare a thought for them after the fire is out,  and continue to give them the respect they deserve.
  • Always give way for emergency vehicles.
  • Comply when they ask you to move back so they can do their job. Respect their authority at the scene of a crash, bush or house fire. They really do not have time to do crowd control when at any sort of emergency, yet they get sworn at, have stones thrown at their vehicles and even people trying to grab the hoses out of their hands.
  • Don’t go to the fireline and try to help. This will never be allowed and is dangerous as well as obstructive.
  • Set up a monthly debit order for the VWS. Any amount will be gratefully received.
  • There are many ways to get involved with VWS. Members are needed for logistics, catering during big fires such as this one, qualified drivers to transport firefighters to and from the fires and many other supportive tasks. Get in touch with them or visit their website to find out more ways in which you can assist in a meaningful way.
  • When you see them at the petrol station or the base on Table Mountain give them a smile or a thank you.

I am not speaking as a representative of VWS, or the City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services.

 I am speaking as the mother of a son who has been with VWS for 10 years and who is a full time fire fighter for the City of Cape Town. I have washed the uniforms, seen the exhaustion, heard the coughing, and missed my son when he has been on duty on countless birthdays, Christmas, public holidays and family celebrations.

I salute all the members of the VWS, City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services, Disaster Management and Working on Fire Members.

Thank you for your selfless dedication.

Useful numbers.

Report a fire.  Phone 107 or the control centre 021 590 1900 

Report a mountain or wildfire. Phone 107 or  021 480 7700

None of these photos are from the fire that is presently burning.


27 thoughts on “Why Fire-fighters are not heroes.

  1. Brilliant article so well written and so true!


    Alison Feinhauer | QA Manager

    Tel: +27 21 507 9200

    Fax: +27 21 535 2426

    DairyBelle (Pty) Ltd | Cochrane Ave, Epping Industria, Epping, 7460


  2. Beautifully written Diane. We are all hugely indebted to the fire-fighters & I think of Rob so often with love & enormous respect & pride………………………

  3. Hi Di

    Happy Thursday!

    To me, collectively, they are all heroes. Not for going into a burning house to rescue a baby or a pet, but for just doing what they do.

    Well done to your son. I have immense respect for him.



    MIKE.COMputer Services

    As near as your telephone

    021 531 3703

    083 448 1529

    • Thanks Mike. Huge respect to all of them as they work as a team, not as individuals. I could never do what they do. I believe you have to have a calling for this job. So glad we have so many that heard that call!

  4. What a fabulous article! My son is also a VWS firefighter, from Jonkershoek. I so resonate with all that you’ve written. Well done tor verbalising your message so well.

    Shared on my Facebook page.

    May the support continue long after the fire dies down.

    Much love and grateful thanks to you and your son.

    • Thank you Brigitte. Great to get a response from someone who totally understands. They are great people, but not super heroes, and they enjoy what they do. The volunteers who join after a fire like this and then stick it out with very little “action” are the ones I have great respect for.
      Any tips on how to get the uniforms clean? After 10 years I still have not got it right.

  5. Agreed. Respect to all the emergency services personnel. For me, the are heroes for simply putting on their uniforms and doing what they do.

  6. I have been following this fire from Scotland as I have family living in Cape Town. You wrote a great article. But, for me, the men and women who put their lives on the line to help communities and put out fires (the heat must be tremendous), will always be heroes.

    • Hi Sue. I hope your family were not affected by the fire. I totally agree that the firemen are heroes, I merely wanted to clarify the definition of heroes. Thanks for reading and responding, it is truly appreciated.

  7. Thank you Di. You’ve said it beautifully. My son became a Firefighter at the young age of 19, always knew that he was destined to serve his fellow men. I’m always amazed at his enthusiasm for his work.

  8. Your article is brilliant and it certainly made me think of little things that I have never thought of before. I live in Australia and we get these terrible fires almost annually in some part of our vast country. All bad fires are truly heartbreaking for all concerned. God bless all the firefighters throughout the world and their families too ! They are certainly a very special breed of person.

  9. Di – more true words never spoken. As a 3 going on 4 year member myself your advice and words resonate with me and all other fire fighters. BIG THANKS to you also as another mother who’s supporting her son like this!

  10. Pingback: Cape Fires. Mountains versus shacks. | The Roaming Giraffe

  11. Wow Di, I finally read this. Through your eyes I (and from the looks of it, many others) got a glimpse into the life of a firefighter. So much respect for them, your son and for you. This article really puts things in perspective!
    It’s a sad reality that we don’t always realise how people in rescue services put their lives on the line, walk into dangerous situations and selflessly give so much of their time to strangers.
    So much RESPECT.

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