Fire Agent Service: A Private Firefighting Response

Case Study by Sean Altern – Consultant: Biodiversity Conservation Services

Firefighting is a specialised life or death scenario and demands a professional response. Photo: Justin Sullivan

Imagine having to deal not only with a runaway fire on or near your property but also the possible legal ramifications of damage caused as a result thereof.

According to the National Veld and Forest Fire (Act No. 101 of 1998) all owners on whose land a veldfire may start or burn or from whose land it may spread must:

  • Prepare firebreaks on their side of the boundary if there is a reasonable risk of veldfire;
  • Have such equipment, protective clothing and trained personnel for extinguishing fires as are:
  • Prescribed (in the regulations),
  • If there are no regulations, reasonably required in the circumstances,
  • Take all reasonable steps to notify the FPO of the local FPA (if there is one) when a fire breaks out,
  • Do everything in their power to stop the spread of the fire.

The Act also requires that if the owner is absent, he or she must have a responsible person present on or nearby his or her land to:

  • Extinguish a fire if one broke out, or assist others to do so,
  • Take all reasonable steps to alert the neighbours and the FPA (if there is one).

Fortunately the owner may appoint an agent to act on his or her behalf to perform these duties (DAFF): Welcome to NCC Environmental Services Fire Agent Service.

Designing a customised solution

NCC’s fire agent service is a rapid response firefighting unit that fulfils the criteria of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act for landowners whilst also playing an integral role in the incident management, fire suppression and landowner engagement. NCC Environmental Services has decades of experience locally and abroad (in United States) managing some of the largest crews in the Western Cape including those for SANParks, specifically of the southern region that includes Table Mountain National Park as well as CapeNature, Provincial Disaster Management and the various District Municipalities, local authorities, commercial forestry plantations and private land owners.

This service is another extension of NCCs Firefighting portfolio and complies with all regulations and requirements as stipulated including kitted out response vehicles, skid units, equipment, PPC and trained personal providing peace of mind for landowners.

Being completely tuned in with all wildfire incidents through the vast and integrated network of our firefighting services NCC is often aware of and responding to even the smallest of blazes (with much added force!) long before clients are even aware there is a problem.

24hrs/7 days a week, 365 days a year. Fire doesn’t take weekends and the agent is always on call and ready. Photo: Justin Sullivan

Implementation

In much the same manner as an armed response, NCCs Wildfire Agent Services provides rapid response, initial incident analysis and, where necessary, direct or indirect engagement. All NCC’s wildfire agent staff are highly trained and experienced, both in practical wildfire suppression and the Incident Command System, thereby able to assume command and manage the response until such a time as transfer of responsibility is handed over to arriving senior management such as TMNP or CoCT Fire Incident Commanders.

Lessons learned

There is nothing worse than arriving in the chaos of an oncoming wild fire and discovering a locked gate and no one knows where the key is. For this reason NCC takes planning to the next level and goes the extra mile in our pre-season site inspections. These inspections are invaluable in assessing our clients properties for hazards, possibilities, areas of concerns, solutions and even aspects such as number of animals in case evacuation is required (yes, we have counted pet tortoises).

Whether arriving in darkness or under a cover of smoke. the teams are able to act decisively and effectively knowing the intricacies of the site in relation to the threats.

Achieving real growth

Over the years NCC has developed very close relationships with a number of clients, forged in the proverbial crucibles of fire. We have become stronger, more efficient, better equipped and passionate about serving the community through all our service offerings. Some of our best wildfire agent crew members began their careers as basic firefighters and progressed to top of the range ‘HotShots’, a term for a specifically highly trained and capable wildland firefighter, many of whom now fulfil the wildland fire agent standby role.

Fire is vital to our ecosystem and whilst most things in life are unpredictable, fire is not one of them. It will happen; it is not a case of IF but rather WHEN, and with this knowledge and advanced planning, NCC is the ready and prepared to protect lives, property, livelihoods and the environment achieving Real Growth for People, Planet and Business.

A cool head in a hazardous situation comes from experience and understanding. Photo: Charl Steenkamp

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