Friday, March 4, 2011

All men are created equal, then a few become firemen ~Author Unknown

A friend of mine, Murray Paulsen is a committed member at the Volunteer Wildfires Services (VWS).  When he talks about fighting fire he speaks with such passion, this fascinated me, so I wanted to find out more. I did this by interviewing him and I did some research on the organisation.

Residents of the Western Cape can all sleep better knowing that the fire department can rely on the assistance of the 150 dedicated volunteers of the Volunteer Wildfires Services (VWS). The VWS was established in 1999 as an organisation to help combat fires around the Western Cape. The VWS has three branches around Cape Town and all 150 of its active members are passionately committed volunteers ranging from 18 to 65 years old.

The VWS has assisted with some of the wildest fires Cape Town has ever seen, together with other emergency service organisations such as the Table Mountain National Park and Cape Town Fire & Emergency Services, Cape Nature, Disaster Management, Titan Aviation, Winelands Fire Brigade, the South African Navy and Working on Fire.
The VWS has three main functions, to provide wildfire suppression services, to run education and awareness programmes and to offer wildfire suppression and management training. One such awareness programme is the Red Hill Community project where VWS volunteers educate residents from the informal settlements about being fire safe. The VWS are trained to be able to offer fire investigation to establish the cause of a fire. They also carry out prescribed burns as well as tree and vegetation felling in order to minimize and control the damage caused by potential wildfires. Even out of fire season, the members of the VWS are always busy. This is when their focus moves to training and education.

The VWS volunteers are a highly committed team who come from various backgrounds. Their determination to raise awareness of their organisation was seen recently when they participated in the Blisters for bread charity walk dressed in their full uniform with 10 – 12 KG kit.

When VWS volunteer Murray Paulsen, a first year medical student from the University of Cape Town, saw a National Parks advert in the newspaper in April 2007, he and his brother Kent decided to join the unit. After undergoing the rigorous and varied training required before any volunteer is legally allowed to fight fire, Paulsen experienced his first fire season of 2007/2008. He loved it.  Says Paulsen,“ I really enjoyed my first fire season, now it is a passion and it is more like a hobby for me. I think that everyone who is active in the unit sees it differently,  much more than just being community service. “

Paulsen speaks highly of all his fellow volunteers, “I feel so proud to be part of such a good unit and I have so much respect for them.” The VWS is on standby 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year and all volunteers are contacted via a sms call out system. Sue Paulsen, Murray and Kent’s mother, explains how fast both her sons react to the call, “ SMS and they’re gone!”

One of Paulsen’s most memorable experiences when volunteering was in February 2009 when the unit went to fight the devastating fire at Vergelegen Wine Estate in Somerset West. He describes it as “hectic, we used all the skills that we had been trained in over the last two years. It was a good demonstration of what we were capable of. Everything seemed to go wrong, it was like the Comedy of Errors, even the bakkie got stuck in a sandpit next to the river.” For Paulsen, although it was a long night and day, he says “I really got to know the other guys well and it was a real bonding experience.” Another highlight for Paulsen was when he had the opportunity to fly to the West Coast National Parks fire, with a team of 8 in a mi-8 fire fighting helicopter.

When asked what he had gained from being a VWS volunteer, Paulsen replied “I’ve learnt many skills as well as realising how much time it takes to volunteer. I’ve learned to appreciate how much other volunteers do.” His biggest reward from being a VWS volunteer fireman is the satisfaction of knowing that he is doing something that is really helpful for his community while being part of a team of people all committed to going the extra mile.

For further information check out the VWS website,

No comments:

Post a Comment