Biggest fire station in the Garden Route unveiled

2 February 2024 | SANews

Today, 2 February 2024, is a significant milestone achieved by the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) with the grand opening of its first state-of-the-art fire station. This modern facility is strategically located at the end of Pearl Street in the Tamsui Industrial area of George.

The GRDM regional fire station was made possible with the GRDM Council support, as well as support from George Municipality who donated a property of 5 877m2 in size and waived service fees. On top of this, the Western Cape Government assisted the GRDM with a R3 million shortfall.

According to Deon Stoffels, GRDM Fire Chief: “Building construction costs amount to R 11 800 000, and Consulting Engineering Services amount to just over R 1 300,000”.

“The regional fire station is ideally located in the heart of the Garden Route district, extending its protective arms westward to the Hessequa municipal area and eastward to the Bitou and Knysna municipalities, almost equally, areas both prone to high-risk fires,” said Stoffels.

With its central location, quick access to N2, and 24-hour operations, the facility will ensure rapid responses to emergencies, especially given its proximity to the coastal areas that are still overgrown with invasive alien plant species, as well as mountainous terrain. This is the biggest fire station in the district.

The journey to this day has not been without challenges. The GRDM never before owned its own fire station since its establishment in 1987. Over the years, GRDM Fire Services leased various premises while servicing the district as a whole. Today’s grand opening ceremony was not just about the physical structure, but a celebration of homecoming for firefighters, who have occupied their last temporary home for more than 14 years.  These firefighters now have a permanent residence they can call ‘home’, an advanced facility aligned to the required National Building Regulations and Standards.

Among the participants attending the grand opening were Minister Anton Bredell, the Western Cape Provincial Minister for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Mayors, Municipal Managers, Chief Fire Officers, Khubeka Construction CC representatives, the Consulting Engineer, Kantey and Templer (Pty) Ltd representatives, and stakeholders involved in integrated fire management across the District. Also in attendance were representatives of the Western Cape Department of Local Government (WCDLG) Disaster Management and Fire & Rescue Services Directorate, GRDM officials as well as the 50 firefighters from the GRDM. Members of the media (SABC, Eden FM and George Herald), also attended the event, as well as the well-known social media influencer, Nikki du Toit (Lekker Nikki).

GRDM Portfolio Councillor Cobus Meiring opened the prestigious event, welcoming dignitaries, guests and firefighters, followed by Pastor Keith Elliot, from George Victory Church, who encouraged firefighters with Proverbs 8 verse 13, inspiring everyone present.

A very proud but humble GRDM Municipal Manager, Monde Stratu delivered a brief, yet thorough background around the journey fire services has come from until where they are today in opening the regional fire station.

Stratu referred to the devastating Knysna wildfires which occurred in 2017 as one of the driving forces behind an inter-governmental push to co-fund a fire station that serves the region as a whole. Throughout his speech, he detailed the processes, reasons, and steps followed in determining the location of the fire facility, as well as the budget provision and support provided by the Western Cape Provincial government.

“It has been a wonderful experience for all of us, the firefighters, officials, councillors and everyone else, to say that we want to work together to deliver this facility for the people of the Garden Route region, for all the municipalities that will benefit from it, and for us to assist our provincial colleagues in need,” said Stratu.

Municipal Manager Stratu acknowledged some colleagues who made a significant contribution to this project, “One of the key pioneers in this facility and leader in the sector, Freddy Thaver, the former Fire Chief, who has passed on, and who was very fond and passionate about this project.” He asked everyone present to rise for a moment of silence to pay respect to the late Thaver.  Mr Stratu also recognised Clive Africa who was unable to attend the event. To honour Africa’s contribution, he asked all present to give him a round of applause for his role at the beginning of the project and also for pushing for it to become a reality.

Ettiene Du Toit, Deputy Director of Disaster Management & Fire & Rescue Services, presented on Capacity Grants and the financial assistance provided to the project by his department. “It was a privilege to be a part of this project. We often see projects that fail to materialize, but this shows what is possible when provincial and local governments work together.”

In his address, Nelius Agenbag, Principal Agent of Engineering Consultants: Kantey & Templer (Pty) Ltd, expressed gratitude to the GRDM for allowing them to be a part of the project, as well as for the by-in and support given to the design and construction teams. He extended a special word of thanks to Fire Chief Deon Stoffels for his involvement in the project, for always representing his firemen, and for ‘transferring the heart of a fireman’ into the project. “The successful implementation of a project like this depends on teamwork. Everyone involved, every party contributed to the project and without teamwork, a project like this would not have been completed.”

On behalf of George Municipality, Cllr Raybin Figland, Deputy Mayor said, “This is a collective accomplishment for every single municipality in the Garden Route District, and we are proud to be a part of the opening of this facility”.

Figland added:” In allocating this land to GRDM, George Municipality knew there was indeed a need for such a facility; we did this to ensure that our services are effective and that we are responsive to the needs of our community. In doing so, we gained the knowledge we gained from the devastating George and Knysna fires nearly seven years ago.  We made a commitment to our residents that we will strive to do all we can in the face of disaster and with facilities such as this one, we will deliver on our commitments to our residence.”  He concluded by saying, “When a decision had to be made regarding the donation of the property for the fire station, it was an easy decision for our council since there was no debate”.

Alderman Memory Booysen, GRDM Executive Mayor said: “When you put egos, personalities, the argument of powers and functions, aside – this is what you get. We put everything aside for one purpose and that purpose was for this facility to be erected and here we are today. This is an indication of when different spheres of government come together and when a district and local municipality comes together.”

He continued by saying, “It is not that we wanted to be smart to call it the Garden Route District Municipality’s Regional Fire Station, it was by choice, a deliberate decision. All the speakers refer to the fact that it is not a Garden Route facility, but it belongs to eight municipalities in total.  This facility is here to protect the entire Garden Route – Hessequa, Mossel Bay, George, Knysna, Bitou, Oudtshoorn and Kannaland. This is an indication that when we work together as a government, we know no boundaries.”

In his keynote address, the Western Cape Provincial Minister of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell, said, “This is your facility. We are currently facing a major problem with vandalism. Vandalism of infrastructure. If you vandalise infrastructure, you destroy your children’s future.” He encouraged people to take ownership of the facility and to protect it, because more of these facilities are needed.

MEC Bredell delivered a brief overview of the fires currently burning in the Western Cape and thanked the fire service present for sending teams and resources to assist. He continued by congratulating the GRDM Fire Service Team and said, Let’s keep building and working together. Going forward, climate change is going to be a big issue for us all in administration and government. When budget time comes around, we tend to ignore it. We must invest in Disaster Management over time and build a system because we will need the system in the future.”

In conclusion, Bredell said: “The heart and soul of this building is mostly that side of the audience,” when he referred to the firefighters of GRDM. “You bring passion, love and competence to this facility and the communities you serve. On behalf of the Provincial Government, I want to thank you. You have saved lives throughout the year, if we call on you, you are always there. I want to thank you for your dedication and commitment – let us keep on.” Adding to these words, Bredell further said: And from the provincial side, I want to commit that I will keep on fighting for the right budget, so that we can train you and give you the rightful training and rightful equipment, to do your job.”

GRDM Deputy Executive Mayor, Ald. Gert van Niekerk, delivered the closing remarks and vote of thanks. During his message he thanked internal, as well as external stakeholders. He wrapped up his thank yous by saying “Every official of the GRDM sitting here, certainly, you had a contribution somewhere along the course of this project – thank you very much – you all can be proud of what stands in front of you”.

A special thank you needs to be extended to the gracious sponsors who donated various items to the Fire and Rescue Services of GRDM, these include Outeniqua Palms, Grown Green Organics, Fabric World, Curtains Up, Wild Farm Backpackers Wilderness, and Savannah Helicopters.

Did you know:   

The newly constructed double-storey fire station adheres to its design specifications and encompasses various essential components to facilitate efficient firefighting operations:

The following are some of the features:

Administrative Building: This section will accommodate four senior fire officers and an administrative clerk, providing a centralised hub for coordination and management.

Leisure Area: Designed for the well-being of the 24 George-based firefighters on duty, this space recognises the importance of downtime and relaxation for a team working in demanding conditions.

Kitchen Facilities: For both administrative and operational firefighters use.

Ablution Facilities: Separate facilities for administrative and operational firefighters promote hygiene and well-being.

Board Room: A dedicated space for meetings and briefings enhances communication, collaboration and strategic planning among firefighting personnel.

Gym Room: Recognizing the physical demands of firefighting, the gym will provide a space for fitness and wellness activities.

Lecture Room: Equipped for training and educational purposes, this room supports continuous learning and skill development.

Double Apparatus Bays: Four double bays safely accommodate the necessary firefighting vehicles, ensuring quick and efficient response times.

Storage Rooms and Locker Room: Essential for storing equipment and providing secure spaces for personal belongings.

Wash Bay: A separate facility for washing firefighting vehicles and equipment ensures cleanliness, maintenance and readiness for future emergencies.

Industrial Containers: The fire station premises will house 14 industrial containers for storage of equipment and supplies as well as for training purposes, showcasing a commitment to preparedness and ongoing training initiatives.

Specialist Wildland Ground Firefighting Crew Building: This secondary building will host a specialist crew of 22 personnel daily, underscoring the importance of specialized teams for addressing unique challenges, such as those of wildfires.

The location of the station will naturally also reinforce response times too especially in coastal high-risk areas.

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