Her flame shines bright
She fell asleep and awoke to burning oil, which quickly saw flames engulf her home.
As the firemen, clad in their protective gear, rushed in to extinguish the flames, she knew what she wanted to do with her life.
Now a few years later, this rookie firefighter has put the Cape on the map, being named the Toughest Firefighter in the nation.
Baigum Abrahams (23) from Strandfontein is stationed at the Mitchell’s Plain Fire Station and started her career jobshadowing at Ottery station.
This, along with a decade of lifesaving, solidified her desire and passion for firefighting. Her lifesaving was inspired by her father, Clint, deputy station commander of the Strandfontein National Sea Rescue Institute.
“I started out doing lifesaving when I was 13 and have been competitively involved in sport and gymnastics. I think being involved in lifesaving for so many years really groomed my desire to make a difference and give back to the community, making a positive impact on the community. Being a firefighter is very rewarding,” says Abrahams.
“Around two years ago, my son and I were sick. I was frying chips and left the oil on the stove. I fell asleep and could not smell the oil burning so I nearly burnt my house down. Firefighters from the Mitchell’s Plain fire station responded to my house and extinguished the fire. That was an inspiration to me and I wanted to know more about the service.”
Following the incident, she did a stint as a seasonal firefighter.
“I wanted to make sure that this is what I wanted to do and see exactly what it was about,” she says.
Abrahams enrolled at the academy last year and started at the station on Wednesday 1 August as part of the 25 new recruits dispatched to stations across the city.
Abrahams was one of seven women and earned her crest and axe after an intensive selection process and training course in July, also being named one of the top performers in the class of 2018.
The one-year training included firefighting, hazardous materials awareness and first aid training, among others.
“Firefighting continues to be one of those careers that capture the imagination. It’s one of the things many young children tell you they want to be when they grow up. For these 25 new recruits, the dream is now a reality and I have every confidence that they will wear the uniform with pride and execute their duties in similar fashion,” says Mayco member for safety, security and social services, JP Smith.
Now, only a few days in, she looks forward to making a lasting difference and saving lives. Her passion is palpable as she describes her daily duties, being part of the service and looking forward to using her skills to save lives.
“The training and skills that we learnt at the academy, I can now put to use. I was so honoured to have been a part of the academy. We covered so much and learnt so much including rope work, structural fire fighting and first aid. Being there and now part of the brigade, I look out of the window sometimes in awe. I see the big, red and shiny fire trucks and I am so proud. I can’t believe I am in the fire brigade,” she says. “Mitchell’s Plain is a busy and beautiful station and it is a blessing to be stationed here because we get to respond to a variety of calls. It has only been a few days but every shift I am learning new things. I know I am going to be challenged and grow here.”
She is a learner firefighter and hopes to be graded in April after serving a year and a half in the service. This includes her time at the academy.
“I look forward to being upgraded to senior firefighter next year,” she says.
The station temporarily houses Gugulethu Fire Station following the incident that saw the station damaged.
Working 24 hour shifts, the firefighters from the station also back up stations in the surrounding areas, responding to Philippi, Manenberg and Khayelitsha should the need arise.
She encourages more youths to join the brigade.
“Children naturally have a want to nurture and help, but I believe what is portrayed in society taints that image of wanting to make a difference. I believe that if we encourage and help one another, we will make a difference,” she says.
She looks forward to a long career and says the station and brigade is home to her.
She adds that being a women in a profession regarded to be a man’s world has not affected her.
“I value being a woman and I believe I am a strong woman. We have many women in the brigade and just recently we had all female staff on the back of the truck. That was so amazing during women’s month,” says Abrahams.
And strong she is, having beat out a host of the nations' best cometitors.
"I am not proud of this, but I had very little time to practice for the Toughest Firefighter Alive competition," she says.
Last year, while still at the academy, she competed in the Combat Challenge in Johannesburg.
"This was the first time I did the dummy drag and I did not finish. For this time, I set a challenge for myself. I only wanted to finish. To complete and to win is an amazing accomplishment for me," she says.
"I was so nervous about the dummy drag because I couldn't do it at the Combat Challenge. I realised it was a mental game and I focused on that. I imagined that it was my supervisor and I knew I was not ever going to leave him behind in a fire."
She was also part of the relay team that won gold at the event.
While she looks forward to representing South Africa in China next year, she says she will be better prepared to fly the SA flag high.
"It is very physically demanding and you must endure a lot. I really want to do my best," she says.
In congratulating the winners and Abrahams, Smith said in a statement: "We are extremely proud of all the competitors, but more especially for our City participants who really shone. The performance of our female firefighters is especially noteworthy, given that we're celebrating Women's Month."