Working on Fire - Open Day - Newlands Forest Helipad

By Pete van der Spek


Once a year around the beginning of December, Working on Fire in Cape Town holds an open day for the public. It is very well attended by thousands of people from small kids to adults - but it is intended for the kids - both young and old.

Parking is a premium and people park along the M3 so those arriving late will endure a long walk to the base. It is a base for the Newlands Forest Fire services as well as the helibase for the Huey helicopters. The Newlands Forest Hiking Trail starts here and is very well used.

I was lucky enough to get the code for the helipad base gate so drove into the base and found parking even though it was 11:00 and some of the displays were well under way. In fact, the fire fighting ground team were "fighting a fire" - a bunch of flares burning and caused a smoke cloud of note. Reminded me of an air display - kind of like "smoke on-GO".

I was just in time to catch the sole Huey dropping a small amount of water on the "fire". Very impressive to see one of these machines in action close by. The other Huey was being used as a static display for kids (and adults) to climb into but only in the rear. For obvious reasons, no one was allowed up front - I can just image the fun the kids could have flicking switches…

I was chatting to Brian Davies and John Mittelmeyer about their time in the Eastern Cape during the winter season. They flew very little hours on fires while there. In fact, poor Brian only flew 2 hours the whole season in the Eastern Cape.

The static Huey was actually on standby and I asked Brian how they would handle the crowds if the team had a callout. He said they would have to move everything around the Huey away, which included a bunch of gazebos - I would have loved to see that happen - the time to get into the air is very strictly applied as every minute counts.

The kids loved the day - they were entertained by the Cape Town fire- fighting team on site with a large fire engine hauling kids up in a safety harness - only about 4 metres but the kids thought it was great! There was also a demonstration by the National Parks board dog unit who patrol mainly the beaches for perlemoen poachers. I spoke to one of the handlers who said they are very busy on that side as the perlemoen poachers are extremely active along the Cape Coast. I would not like to be one of those poachers when they get tackled by the Dutch Shepard dogs that they use - they are very aggressive once let loose and don't let go once they have you in their jaws.

A snake handling display was the hit of the day and the snake handlers brought out a variety of different snakes from a docile Egg Eater to an aggressive Mole snake and then the "heavies" like Cape Cobra and Puff Adders. The circle around the snake display grew suddenly wider when the poisonous snakes were taken out.


The last event was the second firefighting display of the day and I was well placed to get the helicopter drop - to no avail. The bucket system on the helicopter malfunctioned and could not drop water - even though Shane tried very hard several times to get it to work.

I said my goodbyes to Brian, John and Shane and I guess I was hardly down the road when they got a callout. Fire in the reeds in Noordhoek!! As I was driving along the M3 towards home (and not knowing about the callout) I saw smoke above Steenberg Plateau and Noordhoek Peak and just knew there was a fire big enough for a helicopter callout. Sure enough, when I drove over Ou Kaapse Weg I saw the fire blazing in the reeds. There was a helicopter dropping water. I got home and listened in on the fight and sure enough, Brian was busy fighting the fire. He initially also had problems with the bucket but landed at a nearby sports field and sorted the problem out. He flew at least 3 hours that afternoon - already more than his whole time in the Eastern Cape.

Well done to the Working on Fire team for putting up a great display on the day - it was enjoyed by everyone. For the Western Cape, these guys are lifesavers and work in extremely difficult terrain and conditions. Hats off to them!

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