JeVanne Gibbs
3 minute read
30 Nov 2013
7:00 am

A fire fighter who cares

JeVanne Gibbs

Being part of an international team of relief workers aiding people in the Philippines, following Typhoon Haiyan, was a life-changing experience for local firefighter Rachel Martin.

Acting platoon commander of Johannesburg EMS Rachel Martins poses for a picture at the Florida Fire Station, Roodepoort, 29 November 2013. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

The Mpumalanga-born acting platoon commander for the Joburg Emergency Management Services (EMS) was part of a team of 56 doctors, paramedics, firefighters and rescue technicians who travelled to the ravaged town of Abuyog in the Philippines on November 15 to help with relief efforts.

“We were stationed at a temporary clinic set up at a school near an Abuyog hospital, which was not operational and had to be repaired,” Martin says.

“About 700 people with trauma injuries were treated during the eight days we were there. All of this took place while we restored the hospital to allow more people access to treatment.”

More than 5 000 people were killed after Typhoon Haiyan battered the central Philippines earlier this month, leaving $1.49 billion (R14 billion) damage in its wake.

Vast numbers of people were left homeless, with many stranded in cramped, unhygienic conditions in damaged buildings.

Acting platoon commander of Johannesburg EMS Rachel Martins poses for a picture at the Florida Fire Station, Roodepoort, 29 November 2013.  Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

Acting platoon commander of Johannesburg EMS Rachel Martins poses for a picture at the Florida Fire Station, Roodepoort, 29 November 2013. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

Most people treated by the South African team suffered infections from being left wounded in water without taking medication; with flu and pneumonia rife in the region, says Martin.

“The people were so humble and grateful for the assistance. They thanked us before we even started treating them. They could not believe that we came from so far away to help them,” she says.

“Helping people is my calling. Not everyone thanks us for what we do, so it really blows me away when people do give a simple ‘thanks’ after we’ve helped them. It’s really cool when that happens.”

Martin says she will return to the Philippines and any other disaster-stuck area in a heartbeat, as she was not discouraged by the destruction witnessed during this trip. “The work we do is very rewarding. You can’t do it for the money. But the inner-fulfilment is enough,” she says.

While driving around Johannesburg on her days off, Martin says she’s always willing to stop and assist when spotting people in need of help. “I grew up watching Rescue 911 and feel like it’s my duty to help people in need.

“I wanted to save lives from an early age, even if people found it ‘weird for a girl’. This profession was always a dream,” she says.

Trained in firefighting, ambulance services and rescue, Martin loves a challenge and is in no hurry to specialise in a specific field. She says finding balance between her work and private life remains a challenge; however, she commits fully when either on the job or with family and friends.

“I tend to get so busy at times with work, family and the charity work that I do but I do put my whole heart into whatever I end up doing,” she says.

Martin started Team Zodwa (for women only) with two others in 2006 to generate money for charities and communities in need of assistance.

An upcoming project is to assemble a team to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in May next year, with funds raised going towards the Hekpoort community near Magaliesburg.

“There’s a school in the area that is in need of further development, along with a community centre that needs to be built,” says Martin.

“We are appealing to individuals and corporations to come on board and join us next year in Tanzania. It will all be for a good cause.”

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