No easy way in for this firefighter

Jugathesan Padayachee

By: Keabetsoe Matshediso – staff writer

Jugathesan Padayachee, the operations manager for the Fire and Rescue Services at the Msunduzi fire station in KwaZulu-Natal, loved trucks as a little boy so it is no surprise that he carved out a career as a firefighter.

Juggie, as he is better known, is the sixth member of a family of eight. After many trials and tribulations he joined the civil defence volunteer firefighter group at the Pietermaritzburg fire department. It was then that he realised that he had been led in the right direction.

“As soon as the vacancy at Msunduzi was advertised I applied and was successful,” he says.

Juggie oversees the response to emergencies, fire safety and protection, fire training and the repairs of fire vehicles. He now embraces 30 years of service as a firefighter and has a handful of qualifications.

“There are a number of courses I have completed, ranging from three months to three years. Going through my files, my recent count was that I have successfully completed 51 courses,” says Juggie.

His three major qualifications include Southern African Emergency Services Associate Diploma in Fire Technology; a Southern African Emergency Services Graduate Diploma in Fire Technology; and a Graduate Diploma from The Institution of Fire Engineers (United Kingdom).

Life as a firefighter
“It wasn’t always roses. When I started I was told to wash toilets, clean and scrub floors, polish floors and clean fire trucks. This made me stronger and cultivated a love for being a firefighter,” says Juggie.

“I can recall the officer saying: ‘Don’t waste your time studying as you will be a firefighter all your life.’ That was true. I am a firefighter, but I went through all the ranks to my current position. The simple words of my school motto “Upwards and knowledge is power” inspired me to continue studying.”

Firefighters encounter different types of fires, rescue, and special services every day. “I don’t like to boast but I’ve been to incidents that very few people would stomach: blood, loss of life, and seriously injured people. This soon becomes part of our lives. Although we are also very emotional when we arrive, we don’t show this to the public,” says Juggie.

“We encounter many new challenges and have to deal with these on a daily basis. Lately the most challenging matter is finance. We need funds to purchase equipment as technology is changing and we need to adapt to this. We also need to deal with staffing issues, such as sick leave, work ethics and general discipline – but there is never a day that I will give up and let the upper hand take over.”

Message to up-and-coming firefighters
Juggie’s message to new firefighters is simple: “Don’t look back at what you have chosen, but move forward in life. Don’t forget why we are here. We have one common goal: to render humanitarian services to all. Keep studying and keep abreast of the times. Remember, knowledge is power.”

Highlights of his career is being successful in the worst case scenarios, obtaining his qualifications, winning the student of the year internally, and fulfilling his calling. “We are not here to earn money, but are the few chosen people to do a job very few people will succeed in.”