“Working on Fire”: the life of a single mother


“Working on Fire” (WoF) was launched in September 2003 as part of the South African Government’s initiative to create jobs and to alleviate poverty. Today WoF employs more than 5,000 young men and women who have been fully trained as veld and forest fire fighters. They are stationed in more than 200 teams throughout South Africa.

I am one of them.

“Working on Fire” employs the largest percentage of female fire fighters (37%) in the fire fighting fraternity internationally.  A lot of women in the WoF programme are single mothers.

I am one of them.

We work to provide for our children and families. It’s not an easy job, to be away from your children, but we are committed, as we know that they depend on us. What is even worse, is that most of us are working away and only see our children once a month, if we are lucky. For others, it is once a year…

When entering the “Working on Fire” programme you don’t have an idea of what is waiting for you as a woman. I remember how I felt when I started in 2004: scared of what awaited me, but still positive. Ready to take on the challenge in a man’s world.

I soon realized that I could do what they can do – even better. Three months later, I was promoted as a crew leader, in charge of my 25-member team. Now I needed to lead the men:  giving orders, doing teamwork activities. Eish, what a mess. My most challenging month. #Ever…

During the Crew Leader Course, I became mentally and physically stronger. I had to run 2.4km in 14 minutes, do 40 push-ups or 40 sit-ups per 1 minute, a 40km route march with full gear on. OMW, that was hard. I wanted to give up. I was thinking to myself, “do I really need to suffer this much?”

Then I asked myself, “why am I complaining? I have done it. And I survived. As an 18-year-old girl from Uniondale, a poor rural town, I manage to pull myself together. And I survived”.

I went back to my team, full of energy, fitter, ready to give the men hell (in a good way), and to show them, that I can be their leader.

They respected me, because I did everything together with them. I did not just give orders. My team was the winning team at our Provincial Safety and Survival training camp in 2004. I then moved on to head a new team in Plettenberg Bay in 2005. And guess what? Our new team, at just five months old, beat the Uniondale team. We won the Safety and Survival training camp. I was on fire!

I am still on fire, ten years later. I am now the lead video journalist for the programme.

There are many stories like mine in “Working on Fire”. Our programme has totally changed the course of my life, and those around me. Now my nine-year daughter also wants to become a fire fighter. And so do the other children in Uniondale.

Here is a video story I made of one of the women in our programme

Blogpost by Christalene De Kella (Video Journalist, “Working on Fire) – christalene.dekella(at)wofire.co.za
Picture courtesy “Working on Fire”

One thought on ““Working on Fire”: the life of a single mother

  1. Felicito a los promotores, Working on Fire , EL FUEGO ES EL PEOR ENEMIGO DEL BOSQUE , prevenir y combatirlo es una tarea dificil y de gran riesgo.La formacion y el trabajo mismo debe incluir todo tipo de seguridades para los bomberos.


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