By William Sezoe
South Africa’s first group of all female firefighters, known as Team Juliet, along with hundreds of other firefighters have managed to extinguish 99% of the wildfire outbreak in the Franschhoek and Stellenbosch area.
In November 2019, Dean Ferreira, Managing Director of NCC Environmental Services, decided to establish the All-Women Wildland Firefighting Project. “Our main aim was to provide employment opportunities and training to 10 young women,” Ferreira said.
According to Ferreira who has been a wildfire manager for more than 30 years, he realised that there was a gap that needed to be filled and addressed. “Currently women are not adequately represented in this sector with many people still believing that firefighting is not a suitable occupation for women,” he continued.
Ferreira believes that the project can only flourish through partnerships. “In partnership with Dr Lucille Meyer, the CEO of Chrysalis Academy, the team at NCC Environmental Services is attempting to address the under representation of women in this industry while simultaneously providing life changing opportunities to vulnerable youth. Over time they will stand shoulder to shoulder – not male or female, just firefighters in green and yellow,” Ferreira added.
According to Ferreira the group has shown positive progress over the years. “They are showing immense growth since the start of the project in 2019. [V They are now often deployed alongside or with the other NCC crews. In a very short period, the women went from shy and quiet, to proud and confident women. Standing side by side[V with their male counterparts as equals. They shine with pride and their passion can be seen in everything they do, when they sing, train and work,” Ferreira said.
Ferreira added by saying the project also comes with a lot of challenges. “It has been a learning experience with unique challenges, finding lodging, shortage in supplies of female firefighter uniforms, funding, logistics etcetera,” he continued.
Kylie Paul, the superintendent for Team Juliet, added by saying the challenges made the team develop and advance their skills. “I feel that the challenges have made them stronger and having to come up with solutions every time has enhanced their critical thinking,” Paul said.
The crewmembers were unfortunately not available to share their experiences individually as they are still busy resting and recovering after fighting the wildfire outbreak in the Franschhoek and Stellenbosch area.