“As their mother, I do not share everything with them.”
These are words of a mother waiting for her firefighter husband to reply with the words: “I am okay and alive”.
Patience Gertse from Hangberg says every time her husband leaves the house to battle a blaze, it’s as if time stood still and her heart was on hold.
“You watch the news, you watch your phone, you see all these updates, but your husband doesn’t respond to the calls or text messages. By now I should be used to it, but that scary feeling will always be there,” she said.
Her husband, Wayne, left on Monday morning to help fight the Rhodes Memorial fire and upon arriving at the station, he was immediately deployed to the mountain to battle the blaze.
Wayne was part of an 11-man crew with one platoon, but then disappeared without any contact, sending Patience into a frenzy.
“I was very worried and concerned. I messaged him a few times to find out if he is okay and I got no response. Seeing how huge that fire was and hearing that some of the firefighters got hurt was very scary I tell you,” Patience said from her Hangberg home.
Throughout the night, her children kept asking: “Where is Daddy?” “When is Daddy coming home?” “Is Daddy okay?”
“Even when I heard that they couldn’t get hold of him, I didn’t say anything to them in order to avoid any panic,” Patience said.
But she had to remain strong, as she still had no communication with her husband for nearly an entire day. Shortly after midnight, she managed to get hold of a colleague, who confirmed that Wayne was indeed okay and was already on his way back to the station to wash up after a hectic night out.
“I couldn’t sleep and I kept watching the updates every five minutes until the next morning. I got really worried when he never came home at 11am like he was supposed to,” she explained.
When the WhatsApp message arrived from Wayne’s colleague, Patience dropped to her knees and burst into tears with relief.
“Before the message, I was already expecting the worst. It was such a relief to hear he was fine, I literally just cried,” Patience said.
Wayne, who is based at the Hout Bay Fire Station, said it was quite a traumatic experience to be involved with a fire that caused so much destruction within just a few days.
“To see homes and buildings going up in flames, as well seeing my colleagues getting hurt in the blaze was really challenging for me out there,” Wayne said.
He explained that once he went out on the scene, he changed his radio channel in order to pick up updates of what was happening around him and that was why they struggled to get hold of him.
“On my arrival at the station, I was informed that they were looking for me as well as my wife,” Wayne said.
The latest fire was Wayne’s toughest experience thus far as a firefighter.
“The challenges was trying to get the fire under control, but the wind made it impossible,” Wayne added.
Patience said her family had been through many fire call-outs over the years, but it’s a feeling she struggles to get used to.
“You sit there waiting and you watch the time go tick by, wondering if they are okay or if they got hurt, you just don’t know. When that call does come through, you even too scared to answer the phone, because all you can think about is it bad news or what,” she said.
In 2017, Wayne also attended to large shack fires out in IY, where she experienced the same ordeal.
“I don’t think it will ever go away, because that is his work and it’s a dangerous job that he does, they basically put their lives on the line. Every time he goes out, we get very worried and we worry as a family,” Patience said.
Wayne ended by thanking everybody who supported them during this blaze: “The Hout Bay Firefighters would like to thank our community for their support, prayers and donations.”