Saving other peoples’ lives and properties even if it means walking through fire is what Hedwigh Vries has dedicated her life to do.
Hedwigh, one of only two women fire fighters within the Fire Brigade Department of the City of Windhoek has been in the trade for four years now.
This lady, mother of a seven-year old started her career as a fire fighter at the Hosea Kutako International Airport, but requested to be transferred to the head quarters as there were not enough emergency operations at the airport while she needed more challenges in her job.
“My motivation in taking up this challenging job was to be able to work with people and not only work with them but be able to come to their rescue,” she says.
These sentiments were echoed by her male colleague, Kapiya Lineekela, who has been a fire fighter for the past six years.
“It feels good to be able to help others, especially because those people who call us put all their hopes and trust in us. So it is imperative that we deliver and make sure we save them.”
The trust and hope put in the fire-fighters give Hedwigh and her colleagues more strength and they strive to always do their best in saving the other people’s lives and property.
Fire-fighters have to connect with the people who need their help and should reassure them that help is around and they will soon be safe and sound.
This exercise requires one to be mentally and psychologically fit as it is not always easy to connect to strangers every time you are out on a rescue operation especially if the person you are trying to save might not make it in the end.
“It happened once during an accident where I rescued a victim but unfortunately after arriving at the hospital, she passed away. That was a hard experience for me.
“However, we always know that such things are bound to happen and we got to keep strong all the time,” she recalls.
Being a fire fighter includes many components in the sense that one is required to be able to take part in various rescue exercises whether it is a flood crisis; fire suppression and prevention; being able to deliver emergency medical services (first aid, advanced life support, burn treatment) and especially being able to deal and manipulate all fire equipment in a timely manner.
Although in other major cities around the world, fire brigade departments have different teams dealing with different crises, in Namibian to be a fire fighter means that one has to be able to perform in every situation.
“Due to the fact that we are a small number of fire fighters, we are trained in order to be able to perform in every crisis that might happen. Every one of us has to be able to do whatever is required in a particular situation; we have to be multi tasked” Lineekela says.
“To the guys I work with, I will always be a lady. I have to always do my utmost best in any situation we face. I am sometimes the one in charge during an operation. Although they might find it awkward, they follow my orders. We always work as a team. But the main thing is that we are all there for a mission and that is to save the citizens,” she says passionately.
Even after 4 years in her profession, Hedwigh regrets the fact that her dad has never accepted her choice of career.
“My dad was not happy when I chose to be a fire fighter. Even to date, he feels that I should never be at the forefront when going for a fire-fighting exercise; he says I should leave that for my male colleagues,” she says with a wry smile.
I love and enjoy my job very much despite the challenges that come with it, and would not change it for anything else. With my job, I have learnt to love and appreciate my family and make sure they know how much they mean to me every morning, because one never knows what lies ahead,” she points out.
She also feels that she would not oppose her daughter to become a fire fighter. She feels that more women should feel free to join the profession.
“Women keep talking about gender equality; so they should also start being part of all those jobs that have always been characterised as men dominated. They should come so we join forces with men in protecting the city,” Hedwigh emphasises.
Lineekela emphasises on the fact that as long as you are a fire fighter, training never ends as there is always new equipment to familiarise with; and especially be physically fit to be able to perform the operation in a quick and timely manner.
“When there is an emergency, we have exactly 30 seconds to get out of the control room, prepare ourselves and be in the trucks going,” Lineekela says.