Amanda Mqhamkana, a firefighter from the Working on Fire (Wof) Newlands base, returned from a month-long deployment to Canada with the rest of her team on Friday.
She was awarded a certificate as the group’s “best female firefighter”, as one of the 28 women who were deployed as firefighters.
South Africa sent the 100 firefighters and nine management staff to aid efforts to combat wildland fires in the Canadian province of Manitoba.
Ms Mqhamkana has been part of WoF for five years and this was her first deployment in Canada. Getting the “Best female firefighter” certificate had capped off the experience, she said.
“I am very excited. This deployment was the highlight of my career journey, while the certificate was a cherry on top for me. It feels good to be appreciated for doing what you love.”
She hopes to inspire other women to become firefighters – a job long dominated by men.
“The WoF firefighters were able to help Canada tremendously because the fires had been going on for some time, and the other firefighters were so tired already. When we arrived there, we were energetic and excited to be of assistance to the Canadians.”
Ms Mqhamkana said they had had to use the Canadians’ firefighting strategies.
“There was an underground fire in the forest, and underground hose pipes were used and laid out. This required us to walk for about more than 5km daily just laying the pipes before the actual work began. This was a different experience in firefighting for me.”
WoF spokesperson Limakatso Khalianyane said Ms Mqhamkana’s fellow team members had chosen her for the “best female firefighter” certificate.
“Their votes were based on her enthusiasm and hard work in an environment that was not familiar. A certificate and money was awarded to her.”
Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy said the firefighters had been good ambassadors for South Africa.
“These young men and women represented our country with pride and dignity. Their work ethic, professionalism and fitness levels were highly regarded in Canada. It was a wonderful experience to see how they managed to work seamlessly alongside fire fighting authorities from Manitoba Wildfire Services.”
As part of the memorandum of understanding between South Africa and Canada, the South African firefighters were paid at the same rate as their Canadian counterparts and deployees from other countries.
Manitoba Wildfire Services Operations Chief Warren Toderan said: “Every crew member was always smiling, even when they were placed in wet swamps and difficult working conditions. Everyone enjoyed camping on the line along the fire. This was my first time, as a Manitoba firefighter, to have the chance to work with SA crews. It was a rewarding experience I will never forget.”