Origins of Working on Fire

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The Working on Fire (WOF) programme, funded by the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries, will be reaching a milestone of having been in existence for 17 years during the month of September.

Working on Fire (WOF) started when National Government awarded a tender to the Kishugu Group in 2003 to implement an aerial and ground resource plan for fighting unwanted wildfires. This resource plan was the first of its kind in South African and required in -depth local and international research to produce a strategy that could be practically implemented in the unique South African landscape. The official launch of WOF in September 2003 was an outcome of this research.

Given the high incidence and impact of annual wildfires and in wildland/urban interface areas, there was a need for an agency that could train firefighters. These firefighters are housed at bases but also have the capacity to be deployed nationally when necessary. The overall strategy applies the principles of Integrated Fire Management to reduce the frequency and severity of uncontrolled fires. WOF combines sound land management principles and firefighting expertise with the need to create jobs and develop skills.

WOF was initially a government and commercial forestry sector funded initiative, but subsequently was became part of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), providing work opportunities. The programme address the prevention and control of wildland fires to enhance the sustainability and protection of lives, properties and the environment.

In 2013, Working on Fire (Pty) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Kishugu Group, was awarded a seven-year contract to implement the Working on Fire Programme on behalf of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.

WOF employs over 5000 men and women, 94% are youth, 33% are women and 3% are people with disabilities. WOF employees are stationed at 196 bases across South Africa. Firefighters are recruited from marginalized communities and are fully trained as firefighters. All firefighters are also trained in Fire-awareness, fire-prevention and fire-suppression skills.

Career progression opportunities are available to firefighters to advance to Crew Leaders, Base Managers, Regional Managers, Ground Operations Managers and Provincial General Managers. There are also various other positions available that are most often filled by participants who have moved up the ranks. As of October 2019, 189 former EPWP participants, 34% of whom are women, have assumed management portfolios.

In line with the EPWP principles, WOF enables participants to undertake further training in Finance, Human Resources, Office Administration, Stock Control, Training, Health and Safety and Communication. Further training is also provided in computer literacy and driving. Life skills training is integral to the WOF Programme as it creates a platform for personal growth to progress both internally and enhance employability outside of WOF.

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