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Community fire-fighting team hits the ground running

  • Zaka22
When a family home burnt to the ground in front of its owners’ shocked and bewildered eyes one Shabbos morning last year, a few members of South African rescue and recovery organisation ZAKA, who were present at the fire, decided to do something about it.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Aug 06, 2020

This week, the ZAKA Fire Containment Unit was launched. The organisation is made up of a team of volunteers who help to contain a fire while waiting for emergency services to arrive.

“While we were doing security duty at the Torah Academy shul, we saw smoke rising in Bagleyston,” said ZAKA South Africa’s head of operations, Josh Green. “We went to inspect with the aim of offering our services. There were a few people on the scene, and a couple of extinguishers, but no water. If you don’t have water to put out a fire, it is going to burn.”

So they watched helplessly as the small fire grew bigger and bigger, eventually ravaging the entire house. “There was nothing anyone could do as we waited patiently for emergency services to arrive,” said Green. “We were heartbroken for the family who lost their home. That fire could have been contained, but it burnt the house down.”

Shaken from the experience, Green, together with the civic minded Yosef Jameson and Yossi Lazarus, decided to start a community initiative to ensure that help is at hand when a fire breaks out.

“We agreed that we can’t allow something like that to happen again. We may not be able to save a house, but we must at least be able to do something,” said Green.

The three dipped into their private funds, and purchased two fire trailers to help them set up the unit.

A recent surge of fires within the community has further inspired the men to establish a team that now has the capability to contain a fire until local fire services arrive.

“The team is equipped with two fire trailers that can spray 2 000 litres of water onto a fire as well as the mechanism to connect into fire hydrants and even suck up water from a swimming pool should there be no hydrant within reach,” said ZAKA’s Netanel Azizollahoff.

“On Monday, there was a fire in Linksfield. The incident involved a serious veld fire that started at the N3 onramp and rapidly spread, endangering vehicles and property all the way up to Club Street,” he told the SA Jewish Report.

“The ZAKA containment unit managed to arrive in time to contain the fire and, with the assistance of Sandton Fire Services, eventually managed to extinguish the fire. The ZAKA team was at the scene for more than four hours” he said.

Neil Meyerowitz, the owner of Plush Car Wash at the Linksfield Terrace Shopping Centre, said ZAKA “helped save the day”.

“The fire started out small further up the hill, and then quickly started to move its way down closer to the centre. Within minutes, it was five times the size, and I began to worry. I honestly didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure who to call. Before I knew it, this team from ZAKA arrived and immediately started to contain the fire. They jumped on it, and never left until it was over. If they hadn’t showed up when they did, I shudder to think what would have happened.”

Monique Friedland, the owner of the shopping centre, said ZAKA was first to arrive on the scene.

“The fire was getting dangerously close, so we were grateful when ZAKA arrived. We felt we were in good hands. It was comforting. The community is fortunate to have this. They will help save lives and property in the future.”

The ZAKA volunteers insist they aren’t firemen, they merely help to contain the spread of a fire. “We have basic training in fire dynamics. We won’t be running into a burning building to save a bobba from the 10th floor. Our role is to help contain the spread of the fire with water, and assist the fire department,” said Green.

Two weeks ago, there was another fire on Linksfield Ridge, and the ZAKA unit was dispatched to the scene.

“Had the wind changed direction, it would have taken minutes to burn down a nearby house. Fortunately, we were able to spray the surrounding area with water, and the fire eventually burnt itself out. Our team was on standby ready to act in this residential area where people live.”

He said it was important for the community to be aware of the service provided because often people are at a loss about what to do in such an emergency, and have no idea who to call.

“We urge members of the community to call our control room first. Make the call the moment a fire breaks out. Our control room will then immediately alert all the relevant emergency services and dispatch members of the ZAKA team,” said Green.

The unit reinforces the rescue services ZAKA offers.

ZAKA is an international rescue and recovery organisation based out of Jerusalem in Israel, with branches all over the world, including a South African chapter which started in 2015, headed by Daniel Forman.

It’s a world-renowned non-profit organisation that’s recognised by the United Nations, in which every member is a volunteer. Born out of the need to treat the dead and their remains in a halachic and dignified manner, they are made up of rabbis, doctors, business people, and paramedics who, at a moment’s notice, leave what they are doing to assist where needed.

  • For emergencies, contact the joint CSO 24 hour emergency control room on 086 18 000 18.

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