Men on Fire

Theo Layne.

Theo Layne: “Everything that is fire related frightens me.” Photos: Marnette Meyer

What enables people to go into a building that is on fire or to fight a wall of fire? spoke to some of our town heroes.

Theo Layne, Station Commander & Media Liaison (49) at Goodwood Fire Station: “Firefighters are a family. You spend 24 hours at a time with the crew. When a firefighter dies his coffin is transported on one of the fire trucks. Firefighters have the option of being buried in a special plot in Maitland cemetery.

Theo Layne & Bianca Koopman.

Theo Layne & Bianca Koopman.

I love the job. The diversity of one’s days is the main thing. Keeping the job and home life separate is extremely difficult, especially for me, because I am available all the time, except from 11 pm – 6 am.

The worst fire? There was a fire in Paarden Island with gas cylinders going off around one. That was scary. The best thing would have been to have withdrawn, but we were already inside the building. You try to gather as much information before you go into a building so you don’t have to escape, but a lot of fires happen in the night. Inevitably you go into a building under risky conditions. Everything that is fire related frightens me. You have to approach a fire with an amount of fear and suspicion.”

Ronnie Golts.

Ronnie Goltz: “If someone says he is scared of nothing he’s young or stupid.”

Ronnie Goltz (40), Melkbosstrand Platoon Commander:
“I saw an ad in the paper and thought being a fireman might be something I’d like. That was 21 years ago. It’s not that I dreamt of being a firefighter. In our community not everyone has the financial backing to do what they want to.

f9What inspires me? I want to teach the younger guys how things are done. As a father I want to show my kids that you do a job with pride. I’ve got a wife and two little girls. My work stays at work. My kids and wife don’t need to know all the gory details.

The worst fires? The mountain fires of 2000 when Table Mountain and Lourensford burnt – we were there for a month. It’s taxing on the guys. If someone says he’s scared of nothing he’s young or stupid. When you have a 10 m wall of flames coming towards you, you are frightened. Lately there’s also been the uncertainty of protest action. When we went into Du Noon we went with police back-up.”

Tashwyn Williams.

Tashwyn Absalom. “What frightens me is leaving family behind.”

Tashwyn Absalom (25), Melkbosstrand Firefighter:
“I’d just finished school when one of the church sisters, who is a firefighter with the Roeland Street Fire Station, said that there are vacancies for firefighters. The best thing is helping people. I will never drive past an accident and not help. When I hear a siren something in me responds. I’m here to help. This is who I am. I don’t see myself doing any other job.

TashwynMy wife knew what she was in for, but she has a soft spot for a man in a uniform! There have been many bad fires. The one at Boyes Drive was the biggest and burnt the longest. It raged for 24 hours. We worked for 24 hours and after I had been home for two hours they phoned and asked, “Won’t you come in again?” I’m not sure that death frightens me. What frightens me is leaving family behind. I’ve got a six-month-old baby.”


Bianca Koopman: “Many things frighten me – snakes for example.”

Bianca Koopman (28), Melkbosstrand Firefighter:
“My boyfriend phoned me from Pretoria with the news that there were vacancies for firefighters here. I had to do 30 push-ups, 30 sit-ups, run 2.5 km in 12 minutes, do a maths test, an English test, climb up a ladder and carry someone who’s my own weight on my back – and that was just the start of the selection process!

f48Saving lives is what inspires me – especially children and the elderly. In the beginning I could not switch off. For the first year I discussed things with my husband. Now I’m able to switch off when I am home. The worst fire was the one at Silverstream. It was massive, massive.

We literally had to run away from the fire. Yes, many things frighten me – snakes for example. I’m a woman, I’m not made of cement.”

J.J. Koopman.

J.J. Koopman. “I’m afraid for other people.”

J.J. Kotze (52), Melkbosstrand Firefighter:

“I applied for all the available jobs in the civil service and the council, and the fire department responded first. I eat and dream fire. For me, it’s about friendship and helping people.

f29One can’t really switch off. There are always people asking one about the fires. The worst fire was last year when we protected the grand housed around Boyes Drive. Fear? I’m not afraid of anything myself, but I’m afraid for other people. When you go out to accidents you see things that stay in your mind. Amputated limbs, a body without a head. It stays with one.”


Christoffel Williams: “My biggest fear is losing my family in such a fire.”

Christoffel Williams (39), Melkbosstrand Firefighter:
“I knew I wanted to become a firefighter even as a boy. It was my passion. My father worked as a driver for the fire department. We stayed in Franschoek and we would go to visit the fire station in Milnerton.

What inspires me? The camaraderie. We work as a team. Our goal is to save lives. I am not completely able to switch off when I am home but I have a strong support system, so that’s okay.

The worst fires for me? When 800 shacks burnt down in Marconi Beam. My biggest fear is losing my family in such a fire.”



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