Roeland Street Fire station celebrates 90 years

Last Thursday, June 10, the Roeland Street fire station celebrated its 90th anniversary. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, celebrations were low-key but Atlantic Sun was given an exclusive peek into the heritage landmark’s past.

Roeland Street Fire station, a heritage sight.

Although the station began operations in 1931, it was not officially opened until 1932.

Arlene Wehr, the head of District West operations, began her career as a rookie firefighter at the fire station 25 years ago.

“I started here and it feels like yesterday when I walked in here in 1996. The building hasn’t changed much; we do our best to maintain the station and to keep it the way it is, so not much has changed structurally,” she said.

“What has changed is the technology we are using, cordless machinery that makes our jobs easier. We do have some of the vintage vehicles in the garage but they do require lots of maintenance ,” said Ms Wehr.

Roeland Street Fire Station in the early 1900s

“I started here on December 7th, 1979,” said Ian Schnetler, the City of Cape Town’s Chief Fire Officer. “I recall my first fire, my first death, and in fact, this is where I started training,” he remarked of the Blue Room, which houses station memorabilia.

“This is a disciplined profession and it has changed a little, but not too much. You need to be disciplined to be a firefighter as the environment demands it. This is a calling and not a job and I’m happy to be here, every day, to be part of this history of Roeland Street fire station.”

Roeland Street fire station in the early days.

Simon Abrahams, Divisional Commander of District West One, who joined the fire service 37 years ago, recalls that he had wanted to be a fireman since he was a young boy.

“When I was a young boy we drove past here and I asked my dad what this station is about. I was fascinated. Then one day I saw them in action responding to a fire and my mind was made up. I walked through these doors in 1984, filled in forms, did an interview and a few days later I reported for training,” he recalled.

“As far as vehicles and technology go, we’ve got state-of-the-art equipment that makes our jobs easier, everything is computerised and back in the day we had to write down everything in an occurrence book,” he chuckled about doing the manual labour.

Mariette Retief, the Divisional Commander for Area West two, believes the role of women in the fire department has changed, and she is proud to be a part of it.

“It’s awesome to be celebrating this; we (Arlene and I) are proof that women can be and are firefighters. The engendered roles are not applicable and there is progress,” she said about her 23-years with the fire department.

“The building has not changed much, I meant it’s built for a certain purpose and so much planning has to be done to make any changes. It’s a historical building and there are so many good memories here for us, really happy to be part of this.”

An aerial view of the 90-year old Roeland Street Fire Station.