Their mandate is to save lives, in some cases under the most adverse conditions, with paramedics and other emergency personnel often finding themselves in the firing line, making it almost impossible for them to do their work.
This is something that worries Lumka Cingo.
The 37-year-old ER24 ambulance assistant said the attacks on emergency workers have put them in a difficult position as they have to either first seek an escort from nearby police stations, or risk their lives by going to the scene on their own.
As the nation celebrates Women’s Month, Vukani got to know Ms Cingo, who shares a shack with two of her three children.
While she is concerned about the attacks, she said, she is is more focused on saving people’s lives. In recent times, emergency personnel have been targeted by criminals, especially in the townships, where they are often robbed of their belongings.
As a result, they are now advised to request police assistance whenever they respond to emergency calls from certain areas.
However, this is not always possible, said Ms Cingo.
She told Vukani paramedics were expected to respond and be on the scene within 15 minutes of having received a call, and every second mattered during an emergency.
“Police are busy with their own work. If we have to go to them all the time, lives will be lost,” she said.
Despite the risks they face in some areas, she said they have to go just to ensure that people’s lives were saved even if it meant putting their own lives in danger. “Especially in a case where someone has collapsed,” she said, adding that her company put people’s lives at the forefront of everything.
“Our job is to save lives,” she said.
“I wish people could understand that. When we go to a scene it means we are needed. Someone’s life is in danger. They must not look at us as targets. We are there for people equally. We are not there to judge anyone. It is painful when an elderly person needs us and we cannot go into the area.”
Ms Cingo said she decided to join emergency services after seeing her late grandmother, who had dementia, struggle for help because people could not understand her.
After struggling for many years to break into the industry, Ms Cingo said she eventually joined metro services as a volunteer for two years in 2012.
Before then, she said, she struggled to get a driving licence, one of the main requirements for the job.
She failed at least three times and later decided to enrol for a first aid course at St John’s Ambulance, in Woodstock. After she completed the course, she wanted to do the Basic Ambulance Assistance course, but only Milnerton MediClinic AmbuTech offered the six-weeks course.
At the time only three places were available, requiring an upfront payment of R6 000. “I had just been retrenched from my previous job. So I had to borrow money and pay the rest with some of my retrenchment package,” she said.
After she completed the course, she then had to register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.
It was only then that she continued to work towards getting her driver’s licence in a bid to get into the industry. After passing the driving test, she volunteered at Lentegeur PsychiatricHospital until June 2014.
A few months later, she saw a job ad and was one of the few who were permanently employed.
“During an interview, I had to face a panel of 10 managers from various ER24 branches. I was nervous, but got comfortable as the interview went on,” she said.
Ms Cingo now works for the Milnerton branch of ER24, but is based in Cape Town.
She said they responded to a lot of emergency calls around the metro, including the townships.
In only her second year in the job, she has already been recognised for her work. During the end of the year awards she walked away with the Basic Ambulance Assistant of the year award. And her base was voted the base of the year in the Western Cape.
“It is easy for us to access most areas because of our base. Remember, we need to be at the scene in less than 15 minutes,” she said.
She praised her colleagues for their support.
“They are always there to support and teach me,” said Ms Cingo.
However, as a mother she also has to support her children and in that respect, she is fortunate to have supportive neighbours. “It is not easy, but it is my duty and I have to do it,” she said.
When she is on night shift, she says she has to ensure that all is well with her children in the night and again in the morning by making a phone call.
“I work for my kids, which means I must give 100% attention to people at work and at home. When I get home I have to cook and make sure that everything is in order. I must also attend school meetings for them,” she said.