Bay firefighter on heroes show

A NELSON Mandela Bay firefighter has been nominated for a national award, a year after he rescued a six-year-old boy from drowning in a waterlogged wetland.

The Centrum Guardian Project acknowledges emergency services personnel who go beyond the call of duty. Weekly television shows highlight each rescue worker’s story, and a voting system is made available to the public so they can choose their favourite.

One of this year’s 16 semifinalists is Kwazakhele firefighter Abed Claasen.

Claasen, 34, who lives in Bethelsdorp, in the northern areas, has been operating as a fireman for 15 years. The incident that saw him nominated as a 2012 Centrum Guardian candidate involved him saving a young boy in an overturned car near Missionvale last year.

"I was actually on my way home when I saw the accident,” Claasen said. "Because I was coming off duty, I didn’t have any rescue equipment with me. Still, I saw a plume of smoke and I immediately drove straight for it.”

Arriving at the scene, Claasen – father of Demitries, 12, and Chante, 10 – discovered an overturned car in a muddy marsh. Lying face-down next to the car was a young boy.

Claasen immediately waded into the vegetation. He moved the boy, who was not breathing, and administered CPR. After a few minutes the boy began to breathe again.

"We’re trained to be rescuers. That’s what we do,” Claasen said. "My training just kicked in.”

He then went back to the vehicle, as onlookers shouted that more people were still trapped inside. He found the driver, a man, draped over the top of the overturned car. Finding the man had already died, Claasen went back to help the boy and radio for help.

"We save a lot of people in this line of work. It’s in our blood. This isn’t a job – it’s a calling,” he said.

Claasen’s nomination for the show came from the 2009 winner and his supervisor, firefighter Mlungiseleli Ciko.

Speaking about the competition and its benefits, Ciko said: "It’s an eye-opener. I feel like it really put the metro on the map when I won it – people saw somebody from this area risking his life on the job.

"A big part of it, though, is that it encourages other firefighters to try just as hard, on and off duty. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Ciko helped 12 people out of an overturned taxi near Peddie in 2009. He was also off duty at the time.

Along with the recognition of the award itself, the winner will receive R10000 if a team or R5000 if an individual. The winner’s station receives R55000 and the proceeds from the SMS voting process.

Contestants will be featured on SABC3 on Thursdays at 10.10pm starting tomorrow.