KEYNOTE ADDRESS DR BONGANI ELIAS SITHOLE HEAD OF THE NATIONAL DISASTER MANAGEMENT CENTRE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

Programme Director

Our host Gauteng Province and specifically Mr Tshepo Motlhale, the Head of the Gauteng Provincial Disaster Management Centre, and his Provincial Disaster Management Centre Team.

Mr Mhlengi Makhubalo, Divisional Head: Emergency Services, City of Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality

Chief Fire Officers

Senior Managers from across all spheres of government

Representatives of the exhibitors and sponsors,

SANTAM

South African Local Government Association

STADIO

Tshwane University of Technology

Representatives of the private sector

Fire Safety and Prevention Officers

Fire Protection Association Managers and officials

Distinguished delegates

Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning

KEY FOCUS AREAS OF THE 2023 9th ANNUAL FIRE SAFETY AND PREVENTION SEMINAR

It is also a great honour for the National Disaster Management Centre to partner with the Gauteng Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs; Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality; SALGA and SANTAM to host the ninth annual Fire Safety and Prevention Seminar here at the Birchwood Hotel over the next two days (22-23 February 2023).

The topics of discussion covered by presenters at the seminar include, amongst others:

  • Importance of Public-Private-Partnerships, Insurance sector, NGOs, etc.
  • The State of Local Government, and the impact on the delivery of Fire Services in the country.
  • Fire Safety Capacity Building in municipalities.
  • Transportation of dangerous goods.
  • Challenges experienced with the implementation of MHI regulations.
  • Incident Management Systems in Major Incidents.
  • Revenue generation and sustainability in Fire Services.
  • Fire Protection Association support and Working on Fire Contract implementation.
  • Comprehensive approach to Rail Industrial Fire Safety: From prevention to response.
  • Equipping Communities in the Informal Settlements with Fire Prevention Knowledge.
  • Innovative technologies to be applied within the Fire Services sector (Drones, GIS Fire Services Tools, etc)

Program Director, this Seminar’s central theme is well-chosen and is drawn from the Fire Services White Paper Vision for Fire Services: “A fire service that is proactive in preventing fires and other risks rather than simply reacting to fires.”

This seminar brings together senior officials and experts from both within and outside fire services from across South Africa and practitioners in fire safety and prevention to continue the journey of repositioning Fire Services in the country.

The Fire Services White Paper states that when setting goals for the safety of our people, it is critical to make communities, private/public organisations, NGOs, and local authorities an integral part of those goals whilst at the same time making them more aware of their responsibilities to organise and maintain fire safety.

To this aim, throughout the next two days, distinguished speakers will facilitate discussions and deliberations on how to galvanize their efforts and work together to strengthen the implementation of the National Fire Safety and Prevention Strategy, which is aimed at reducing fire losses throughout the country.

Program Director, the presence of the wide variety of speakers, delegates, and partners at the seminar is a clear indication of how important the NDMC views the partnerships between government, NGO’s, and the private sectors, as it is clear that collectively we can have a greater impact in terms of ensuring the safety of our communities.

Indeed it is a great honour for me to be allowed to deliver a keynote address to the 9th  National Fire Safety Seminar. This Seminar is taking place at a time when we are experiencing extreme global wildfire activities; Globally, during 2023 many regions experienced record-breaking wildfire activities:

  • In Canada -from May to Oct 2023, 18 million hectares were affected,
  • Greece experienced the largest wildfire in the European Union to date, the worst in the country for the past 20 years.
  • The Hawai’ian Island of Maui experienced some extreme wildfires in August, resulting in the deaths of at least 115 people. The scale and intensity of the Hawai’ian wildfires increased due to Hurricane Dora, with high winds whipping up the flames and causing the wildfire to spread more rapidly.
  • Furthermore, high-latitude fires were also detected within the Arctic Circle in Canada and Russia in July and August 2023.
  • In February 2023, dry weather, high temperatures, and strong winds in Chile contributed to an increase in wildfire activity in the country, which resulted in at least twenty-six (26) people dead and nearly 1,000 injured, with more than 270,000 hectares of territory affected.

Research has shown that the number of high and extreme fire danger days and length of the fire season in South Africa is increasing. While the changes associated with climate change are unavoidable, we can and should take steps to reduce the frequency and magnitude of damaging wildfires.

These fire disasters are destructive and are a demonstration of the direct impact of climate change on fire-related hazards, and that our communities are more exposed to weather disasters than before.

Understanding the risks posed by volatile climate conditions and mitigating these risks effectively is therefore crucial for all spheres of government, to protect the communities that we serve. whilst at home devastating fires and wildland fires also affected the Western Cape, Northwest, Limpopo, and parts of Northwest.

  • Between 1 December 2023 and 31 January 2024, more than 6,000 fires were affected through 100,000 hectares, making this fire season one of the most active fires in years.
  • About 600,000 ha in the Northwest have been lost to veld fires since the August 2023; with more than four deaths reported.
  • During October 2023 it was also reported that more than 480,000 hectares of grazing have been lost due to wildfires in the Northwest Province.

Fires of a different nature, on 31 August 2023, we experienced a devastating building fire in the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, where seventy-seven people were killed and 88 others were injured.

A further two people were killed and four were injured when fire engulfed a residential building in the City of Johannesburg on 21 January 2024.

Informal settlement fires are also continuing to increase in numbers; we experienced informal settlement fires in across many provinces with Eastern Cape, KZN, Western Cape, and Gauteng most affected.

CHALLENGES FACING FIRE SERVICES IN THE COUNTRY

The fire services are grappling with a growing and evolving complex risks including wild land urban interface fires, informal settlement fires, dangerous goods incidents, disastrous veldfires to name but a few.

Many areas across the country are still without adequately equipped services. This situation is made worse by the current of local municipalities as indicated in the State of Local Government Report 2022. It indicates that the Local Government sphere is characterized by a high level of instability, poor financial management and audit outcomes, poor delivery of basic services.

The delivery of fire services is also impacted upon by a variety of other external factors including –

  • Growing wildland urban interface with associated risks;
  • Impact of climate change on fire risks and related hazards;
  • Increase of fire-prone informal settlements due to unplanned urbanization;
  • Lack of firefighting water supply especially in rural areas;
  • Areas to be serviced are growing due to urbanization without concomitant growth in budget allocations;
  • Sheer geographic vastness of areas that must be services particularly in rural areas and water stressed areas;
  • Ambiguous powers and function framework for category Band C municipalities;
  • Competition for resources with basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity, housing and refuse removal, to name but a few.

However, whilst municipalities are constitutionally responsible for the delivery of firefighting services, both the national and provincial spheres of government have specific responsibilities to support, monitor and capacitate municipalities to ensure efficient delivery of fire services in the country. The White Paper on Fire Services outlines the multi-sphere institutional machinery that must be put in place for the efficient delivery of fire services in the country.

KEY INITIATIVES BY NATIONAL FIRE SERVICES TO IMPROVE FIRE SERVICES IN THE COUNTRY

While the National Fire Services engages in various activities and programmes to support fire services across the country, the following are some initiatives that are relevant to the current discourse.

Re-alignment of the National Fire Services

As announced at the previous Seminar in Gqeberha in 2023, the National Fire Services in the NDMC have since been successfully restored to be a  stand-alone Directorate and going to be a Branch, reporting directly to the Head of the National Disaster Management Centre. This was approved by Minister of CoGTA Honourable Thembi Nkadimeng during October 2023, and it further strengthens the oversight function of the Head of the NDMC over the development, implementation and monitoring of fire services legislative frameworks, policies across the three spheres of government.

Fire Services Strategy 2030

As part of the Review of Disaster Management System in the country, a Fire Services Reference Group, made up of Senior Fire Services officials from National, Provincial and Local Government, have been established to assist the National Fire Services in the development of a National Fire Services Strategy (plus a costed plan for Treasury),to inform the development of a new organizational model, in order to facilitate the implementation of the 20 key policy proposals of the Fire Services White Paper.

The Strategy is in an advanced stage and will be finalized and submitted for approval towards the end of March 2024. The National Fire Services  will continue to identify strategic projects and initiatives to make the implementation of the Strategy success – noting that some initiatives may already be in progress.

Funding model for Fire Services

The National Fire Services is in continued discussions with the National Treasury for the finalization of a funding model suitable for the re-capitalization of Fire Services in the Country. The Fire Services Reference Group is instrumental in assisting the National Fire Services in putting together a business case in support of the funding model for Fire Services. The business case will be submitted to National Treasury at the end of March 2024, and will include estimated costs for the recapitalization of Fire Services in the country.

NDMC Bursary Scheme – Fire Services Qualifications

For the first time in the history of the NDMC Bursary scheme, bursaries will now be awarded for undergraduate and postgraduate studies, towards a qualification in Fire Services Technology (excluding Certificate courses and PhD qualifications). This is in support of the Fire Services White Paper provisions for strengthening the qualifications needed for promotional consideration, through the implementation of a career path for Fire Services members.

Progress on the Draft Bill on Fire Services

The Draft Bill on Fire Services was submitted to the CoGTA Legal Services for preparation of the next phase in the legal process which involves the certification of the Fire Services Bill on Fire Services by the Office of the State Law Advisor, declaring it suitable for the next phase of tabling it before Cabinet’s cluster committees to facilitate more detailed consideration of the specific policy areas and issues.

Capacity Assessments – National Fire Safety & Prevention Strategy

During 2016/17 FY, NDMC started a multi-year project aimed at supporting the implementation of the National Fire Safety and Prevention Strategy through capacity assessments & support in municipalities. During the assessment process, the National Fire Services  identified key skills gaps that were adversely impacting on the ability of most assessed municipalities to deliver on the fire safety and prevention mandate outlined in the National Fire Safety and Prevention Strategy.

To date more than eighty-three (130) municipalities have been assessed, with more than five hundred (500) fire safety practitioners trained in aspects of fire risk assessment and safety strategies, through partnership with the Fire Protection Association of South Africa (FPASA).

Today’s seminar is also an opportunity for us to recognise our Chief Fire Officers, their management and personnel, our partners in the government, private sector, NGOs, learning institutions etc., for their continued commitment to assisting us to secure the safety of our people.

This seminar serves as an important platform to recognise your contributions to fire safety, and to promote the learning and partnerships to raise fire safety standards and to ensure safer communities.

Programme Director, in closing, I wish you a very fruitful seminar, and a rich exchange of best practices, knowledge and ideas.

I thank you!