Zimbabwe: Thabani Moyo, "It's disheartening to tell someone you will not attend to his burning house"

BULAWAYO, 24 November 2008 (IRIN) - Thabani Moyo* is a fireman in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo; like everything else in the country, the fire brigade faces serious operational problems, including a lack of fuel and mass resignations.

"When I joined the fire service I was happy, because my dream of fighting fires and saving people's lives had finally come true. I always dreamt of myself driving though red robots [traffic lights], racing in a fire engine with sirens wailing.

"My dream was always to be a hero to people after saving their property from fires, but I spend whole days sitting and doing nothing, as there is [a lack of] fuel to enable us to attend to fires ... [with] frequent water shortages affecting residential suburbs and the entire city.

"The fuel situation is desperate, as we get supplies from NOCZIM [the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe] once in a fortnight; sometimes we do not get the fuel during the two-week period, and during that time the whole emergency services is at a standstill.

"It's disheartening to tell someone at the end of the line that you will not attend to his or her burning house because you do not have fuel to get there ... Out of about 30 operational fire engines in the city, only one is in use at a time due to the shortage of fuel.

"The situation is demoralising, because in some instances we are forced to attend to more than one emergency with one fire engine. I remember in one instance, after attending to a road accident, we were called to attend to a fire in one of the high-density suburbs.

"We had one small fire engine, which was inadequate to deal with the fire, and the engine ran out of water and residents were very angry and they ended up pelting us with stones.

"At times, when you report for duty you discover that your colleagues did not report for duty, and you know at once that they have resigned. A lot of colleagues have resigned since the beginning of the year.

"Every week there is a new group of recruits being trained, but they also do not stay; they leave after a few months on the job - some don't even wait to graduate, they just leave.

* The fireman spoke on condition IRIN did not use his real name