Bulawayo is sitting on a “fire bomb” that can grow and explode at any time with dire consequences to the city and its residents.
A flight of firefighters from the city recently forced the closure of two fire stations.
One of them, North End was reopened, but Nkulumane Fire Station remains closed.
There are fears that more could close in a city that, under normal circumstances, has four fire stations – Nkulumane, Nketa, Famona and North End.
We reported yesterday that Bulawayo City Council is losing its trained and experienced firefighters at a rate far higher than the natural replacement rate.
The professionals, who are mostly young, but well trained and experienced, want foreign currency salaries which the city cannot pay.
Chamber Secretary Mrs Sikhangele Zhou told us that it was unfeasible for council to pay salaries in forex because most residents were paying their bills in local currency.
“Council is committed to improving conditions of service for its workers, but will not be able to pay salaries in forex as long as most residents pay bills in local currency.
The council would want to cushion its workers just like what Government did, but does not have required forex,” said Mrs Zhou.
She said young employees were complaining that they could not make ends meet with the salaries council is paying hence many of them were leaving for greener pastures.
“I guess many of them need more to start their lives and as such are looking for jobs that can pay them better salaries.
Sometimes it does get frustrating when you are young and you can’t do things for your family,” said Mrs Zhou.
It is extremely frightening that the city’s disaster response system is itself in a state of disaster.
It is like a hospital with a broken down ambulance, or a soldier at the front, but without arms.
You have to save the life of the ambulance first before it can save a patient’s life.
It is just disaster waiting to happen upon another.
Mrs Zhou noted that the local authority recently recruited 50 people who started training this month.
But noting the reasons why council recruited them, we don’t see this as a sustainable solution.
They will finish their training, work for a few months or years and do what their predecessors are doing; resign and go abroad. It’s putting water in a leaky jug.
We are deeply concerned, nay, as we have said, actually frightened about the city’s fire response system, particularly residents who were served by Nkulumane Fire Station.
Council must think outside the box, or as some say, think as if there is no box, for them to be able to fix the staffing situation at their disaster response system.
This is a more than essential department of council which must be treated as such.
Council has a lot of land, which it can use as part of a package to keep firefighters here.
The Government has been doing that with some critical professionals and we understand that more and more of them are keeping their civil service jobs while utilising the land given to them, not thinking about going abroad.
Perhaps council’s employee grading system may have to be reworked as well so that essential employees such as fire fighters go a rung or two up; with it, a higher package.
The Government bonds some workers, especially in the health sector.
After training them, they cannot leave their civil service jobs until after some time.
If council is not doing this already, they can try it as well, given they train the fire fighters, as Mrs Zhou said.
We are glad that North End is now up and running, but we want Nkulumane Fire Station to reopen as soon as possible.
We want more stations opened, not closed.
Cowdray Park, the city’s largest suburb deserves a fire station, as council rightly said.