The Fire Brigade

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire1

The next time you have to pull over for a ‘fire engine’, do so with a happy heart. Those who work in emergency services are unsung heroes, and the fire brigade is no exception. Ask anyone who has had to experience a fire which is out of control.

The Chief Fire Officer for each municipal area, and members of the fire brigade under his authority, have wide powers in terms of the Fire Brigade Services Act 1987.

A. Powers of fire officers

  1. If necessary to do their job, fire brigade officers can perform any act, including to:2
    • close any road or street;
    • break and enter any premises;
    • damage, destroy or pull down any property;
    • remove from the scene (including by force) any person who is in danger;
    • remove any person obstructing them in the performance of their duties; and
    • take water, or any object or other substance to be consumed in performance of their functions, from anyone.3

    It is an offence to resist or obstruct a serviceman in doing any of these things.4

  2. The provincial administration can make regulations and by-laws regarding (amongst other things):
    • safety requirements on premises;5 and
    • the storage, use, manufacture and transportation of any flammable or dangerous substance.6
  3. The Chief Fire Officer of any area can enter any premises, at any reasonable time (and he does not need your permission to do so) in order to determine whether such provisions have been complied with.7

  4. If he finds that any provision has not been complied with, he can give the owner a written instruction to comply.8 It is a criminal offence to refuse, or fail to carry out the instructions.9

B. Provincial administration powers

  1. In urgent cases, the provincial administration can order one fire brigade service to make itself available (or its equipment or fire fighting material) to another service. It is a criminal offence to disobey any such order.10

  2. The provincial administration can even order any manufacturer of fire engines, fire-fighting apparatus or material to manufacture any particular equipment or material, even within a certain time frame. It is a criminal offence to disobey any such order.11

C. Pranks

  1. Last, but not least, a warning for prank-callers: it is a crime to call the fire brigade when you know there is no reason to do so.12
  1. The first lines of Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘Into the Fire’, off his 2002 album ‘The Rising’ (Sony Music Entertainment). Most songs, if not all, deal with the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City, in which 343 fire fighters gave their lives. 

  2. Section 8(1)(a)-(e). 

  3. When my (thatched) house caught fire in 2001, the fire brigade emptied the swimming pools of about 3 neighbours. 

  4. Section 21(a). 

  5. Section 15(1)(d). 

  6. Section 15(1)(e). 

  7. Section 18(1). 

  8. Section 18(2). 

  9. Section 21(c). 

  10. Section 21(b). 

  11. Section 14(1) read with section 21(b). 

  12. Section 21(d).