International Firefighters Day |04 May 2023
‘You never know, the next person that enters could be the next Chief Fire Officer’
Today, May 4, the Seychelles Fire and Rescue Services Agency (SFRSA) joins the rest of the world to celebrate International Firefighters Day. It is a day that celebrates and appreciates the hard work of the fire fighters as well as to honour and recognise the bravery, courage, determination and sacrifices that fire fighters make to ensure the safety of communities and the environment.
On this occasion Seychelles NATION interviews the country’s first female Chief Fire Officer, Tally Domingue, to learn about her career path to date, and her new post as well as discuss SFRSA’s strategic plan.
Seychelles NATION: How does it feel to be the first female Chief Fire Officer (CFO) and did you ever expect to be in such a position?
CFO Domingue: I have worked for the fire agency for 26 years and I first joined when I was 19 years old and I came along with SD Laurence, who was also seeking a job at the SFRSA. We were both good friends and at school together.
The CFO at the time, Mr Pascal Payet, called both of us into his office and asked me if I would like to take up that challenge of becoming the first female Chief Fire Officer in the country. I decided to take the challenge. At the time, I had just completed my humanities studies, where I had my A-Levels but no work experience.
We both started working in July 1997 and did the six months training, where I learned to love the job. Following the training, we went into Prevention for a while. But then I decided to move to training school, and eventually on to the Emergency and Disaster Management, with Mr Shedire Payet.
I never expected to one day occupy this post, but I received several promotions over time and I believe this is a recognition of my work.
I love the fire agency and I always tell people that I will work here until I retire. I never see myself moving to another field.
Seychelles NATION: We have heard several concerns such as lack of equipment like fire engines and lack of human resources. What are the biggest challenges facing the agency?
CFO Domingue: I think the biggest issue currently is the lack of staff. We are really understaffed and our four stations do not have the necessary staff required as per standard. Taking into account that 12 persons are required on a specific shift, it is difficult to manage when a person falls sick. You find yourself calling back people when there are big incidents. It is not supposed to be like this, because the standard is a shift that will be able to attend to an emergency without having to resort to call back.
In terms of the fire engines, I believe that there have been some efforts by the government to get us some new equipment and we presently have the replacement plan put together these last few years with the Finance department.
We are replacing the old machinery that is as old as 30 years. The standard is usually ten years before taking it out of the fleet.
Almost every year we are getting new machinery and eventually we will be able to replace the old ones.
The new management team has done a survey with regard to the equipment and infrastructure and we are analysing the information collected. This is also featured in our strategic plan, as it would allow us to do our job efficiently.
The infrastructure here is older than I am and the government has given us an option to move to Perseverance, where the main station is supposed to be located. We are finalising the procedures.
Seychelles NATION: In your opinion, why do you think the fire department is understaffed?
CFO Domingue: There are two factors. The first being we are not getting a lot of posts for us to hire people. We have a lot of applicants but we do not have enough posts. This year we had 8 posts and two or three belong to those who left and are being replaced.
We are presently getting 15 new recruits and over time, these people leave. In the past, people wanted to build a career within the fire service. Nowadays, people do not stay long; they lose interest very fast.
The second factor would have to be drugs. There are a lot of people who apply and fail their drug test. We have a zero drug policy because this job requires you to always be alert as you are responsible for people’s lives. Among 25 people who took a drug test, ten failed.
Seychelles NATION: Today is the International Firefighters Day. What has been planned for the day and what is the morale around the fire fighting community?
CFO Domingue: The morale has fallen a little bit, admittedly, but when I joined, it was really like a family. You still have that bond. People spend more time at work than with their own families. We have always helped one another and when we needed to, we supported one another and leaned on one another. When I started I was encouraged to stay because I had a lot of people, who were like brothers, supporting me.
This remains within the fire service and the one located at the airport that falls under the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority. We have become closer and it is exactly like an extended family.
And this year’s main event for Firefighters day is the official opening of the Anse Royale station. The theme chosen locally is ‘The value of women in fire service’. We will have a special demonstration by women in the service as well as an exhibition, a short motorcade in Anse Royale and at midday, similarly to what happens worldwide, we will have a minute of silence to remember the fallen fighters. The sirens will sound all around the stations.
On the second day, we will have an award ceremony to honour the fire fighters who did well throughout the year and those who have followed several courses, as well as the Long Service Award for staff who have worked for twenty years.
There will also be the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Airport fire service.
We will also launch our three-year strategic plan, operational since the beginning of the year.
And on the third and final day we will have a sporting activity for our staff so that we can bond and interact.
Seychelles NATION: What are the key points in the organisation’s strategic plan?
CFO Domingue: The plan itself has seven priorities. The first being bringing our service closer to the community. We have a plan to build a station up north, where most of the tourism activities are taking place.
The town station is presently serving the northern region but traffic is a major hassle during peak hours, making it difficult to reach emergency points.
This is why for a long time we have had a fire engine stationed in the north during festivals such as Christmas.
We also want to boost our manpower, our capacity building, training for our staff, as well as develop a training school. We have started the groundwork for programmes that can get accredited and this is a plan that will come into fruition next year.
In terms of technology and infrastructure, we have a website and we want to put a database online where incidents and information around the incidents will be on the database. There will also be information for prevention and a section for things such as commercial places and licensed premises, which will be available on hand when required.
Seychelles NATION: Do you think the finance is adequate to accomplish your goals?
CFO Domingue: We all understand that Seychelles is facing economic challenges as a result of what is happening overseas. To be honest, this year’s budget is not enough for what we want to accomplish. The budget will never be enough because the equipment is so expensive and cannot be found locally. The tunic itself is very expensive and we have to get one for each of our staff.
What we do is we prioritise based on the budget, and work with what we have. Fortunately, we have a replacement plan for the fire engine, which does not fall within our budget.
Seychelles NATION: Any final comments or messages for the men and women out there who are thinking of joining the agency?
CFO Domingue: I will encourage all of you to join the fire service. It is a place that will show you discipline, it will teach you how to self-develop and there is that teamwork. People will support you and encourage you. You never know, the next person that enters could be the next Chief Fire Officer.
The current generation also has to change their mindset; to stay on and persevere through something and not quit when the going gets tough.
Interview by Sunny Esparon