According to the Institute of Race Relations (2014), an average of 23 shacks are destroyed by fire every day in South Africa.

Densely constructed structures made out of highly flammable building materials, dangerous illegal electrical connections and the use of paraffin stoves and candles mean that fires are frequent and devastating.

FTS Safety Group is a family business that has provided industry with personal protective equipment (PPE), safety services and training for over 36 years. Pantelis Patric Eleftheriou, Group MD, says: “We realised that the safety procedures that many in more affluent suburbs and business locations take for granted do not necessarily apply in crowded informal settlements.

“Children and elderly people often lose their lives whilst poor people are left with nothing as a result of blazes, now so frequent that that they aren’t reported in daily newspapers.”

This is why FTS Safety, through its corporate social investment initiative, has trained approximately 20 residents at the Kennedy Road, Blackburn Village and Malacca Road informal settlements to the north of Durban. All candidates have received a SETA-accredited qualification, a fire extinguisher and knowledge that they could pass on to other communities.

However, what ignited the need to help shack residents was the experience of one of their own staff members, Michael Ntimbane, who lives at the Kennedy Road settlement. Two years ago, he lost everything when a fire ripped through the settlement.

The FTS family donated household items and clothing, and helped him rebuild. Less than a year later, a similar fire wreaked havoc in the settlement. The only difference was that Michael Ntimbane, who had received safety training, was able to protect his dwelling.

For example, he said it was important for residents to have water and buckets of sand on hand to fight fire. Community members also needed to be able to tell the difference between fires and how to use the appropriate substance to put them out.

“In the absence of formal fire equipment, sand could be used to suffocate an electrical fire. Water only increases the danger.

“Ultimately, it is hoped that communities will have fire ambassadors who can patrol settlements, identifying risks and advising on proactive prevention. If a fire does occur, an equipped and qualified first-response team is available to fight fires when they start,” concludes Ntimbane.

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