Working on Fire grows youth into heroes

1 April, 2022


“A young man or woman’s journey to becoming a Working on Fire wildland firefighter starts with being a new recruit.”

📷Caption: Conray AJ Hopp – “Best Male Runner” | Abegail Roberts – “Best Female Runner” | Philip Daries – “Top Achiever”

One of Kishugu and Working on Fire’s continuous highlights is recruiting and training unemployed South African youth, and growing them into heroes: professional wildland firefighters, who make a difference on and off the fireline. Another 33 young men and women attended their New Recruit Graduation ceremony and were launched into this exciting journey of serving, saving and protecting in the field of integrated fire management.

“New Recruit Graduation ceremonies always make me very proud and excited,” explains Thando Sambokwe, Campus Manager at Kishugu Training Academy. “The young men and women who arrived here just over three weeks before, have already grown so much. By the time they graduate, they usually have more discipline, confidence, skills, hope and they are definitely much more fit. We confidently send them back to their bases and teams, where they start their lives as firefighters.”

Working on Fire employs more than 5 000 wildland firefighters at over 200 bases across South Africa from where they are dispatched to assist our partners in fighting unwanted wildfires. Whenever spots open up in teams – when WOF participants successfully exited the Programme into the formal job market, join the WOF management team or start their own businesses – WOF recruits new candidates. 

The Working on Fire Programme follows a structured career development path for beneficiaries recruited into the Programme. Their journey starts with a very tough, 23-day New Recruit training programme at the Kishugu Training Academy outside Mbombela, Mpumalanga. Their training covers: 

  • Orientation and Induction 
  • Productivity, Personal Development & Wellbeing
  • Personal Finance 
  • Advanced firefighting 
  • Wildfire suppression safety procedures 
  • Motorized water pump operation and maintenance
  • Herbicide application and vegetation management 
  • Integrated Fire Practicals

Successful candidates graduate as wildland firefighters. A qualified New Recruit is allocated to a firebase and is able to fight wildland fires, as well as do production activities, which include, fuel load reduction, making fire breaks, as well as doing invasive plant control. They also have the needed knowledge to promote fire awareness in communities and schools.

Martin Bolton, General Manager for WOF in Mpumalanga, during his key-note address, encouraged the new recruits to actively participate in their own professional journeys.  “The Working on Fire Programme prides itself on restoring dignity to the youth of South Africa by providing employment opportunities. The new recruitment training is only the foundation, I want to encourage you to see it as a stepping stone. Ask your Regional Managers and Crew Leaders – they too were where you are today. Do not let opportunities pass you by.” 

A WOF Firefighter can apply for a Crew Leader Type 2 position after spending enough time on the fireline. They can also apply to expand their knowledge and skills base by doing associated courses, such as: Brush cutter operator, Chainsaw operator, SHE Representative (Safety, Health and Environment) and First Aid. Most of our training is provided by the Kishugu Training Academy and during these graduation ceremonies, the Academy always receives praise from both graduates and management for not just offering Seta accredited and world-class training, but also hosting these youths with so much care.

We are proud of these new recruits and excited for what their futures hold. These new recruits will bolster the capacity of our WOF  teams, enabling them to continue saving lives, properties and the environment. We are excited to see this new group advance through the firefighting ranks and/or successfully exit the WOF Programme using the skills, discipline and experience WOF had the privilege of granting them. 


The Working on Fire Programme is a highly successful, award-winning, government-funded Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), which resides within the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE). The WOF Programme is implemented by Kishugu Holdings (Pty) Ltd which, through Working on Fire, envisions to be the leading global Integrated Fire Management (IFM) agency, making a sustainable difference in the environment and people’s lives. 

✍️Zania Viljoen, and WOF Editorial Team

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