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Put a little love in your heart

10 December 2018 Jonathan Faurie

Over the past two years, the Garden Route has fallen victim to devastating fires which have made national headlines.

Following the Knysna Fires of 2017, a fire started in George on 25 October and caused major devastation in the picturesque town. On 4 November, it was reported that over 86 000 hectares was burned in ten days. As of 22 November, the death toll from the fires was eight people. 

Through all of this, Oakhurst has supported fire fighters in the town who diligently fought the fire to contain the damage. FAnews spoke to Peter Grindlay, Managing Executive of Oakhurst Insurance, to find out more about the partnership. 

How did the recent George fires affect the community? 

It’s been said that there’s a belief amongst firefighters that it takes an entire community to fight a fire. In the face of serious devastation, we witnessed the people of George rally together with the fire and emergency services and bear testimony to that belief. 

Knowing that we were in the very capable hands of a body of professionals who didn’t hesitate in doing everything in their power to keep us all safe, lent an amazing calm to a situation that could otherwise have led to serious panic. 

The firefighting and emergency services, both local and those from other quarters, co-ordinated and executed an amazing strategic defence of our town, and the locals provided solid support by way of food, drinks, supplies and, probably most importantly, gratitude for how we were being looked after by them. If anything, I think that the fires have pulled an already tight knit community even closer together.         

How was Oakhurst involved with the George Fire Department and the local community? 

We focussed our efforts in supplying food and drinks and co-ordinating efforts to ensure that our firefighters were hydrated and energised to continue their gruelling work, and were also involved in assisting the evacuees at the local town hall and Ebb and Flow Rest Camp in Wilderness. 

In a different arena, because we had access thereto, we also assisted with the dissemination of accurate intel to media sources. 

What are the benefits of Oakhurst having deep ties with the community? 

With a compliment of over 600 employees in George, we are an integral part of the community, and from the outset, when we established ourselves in George more than a decade ago, we have strived to partner with the town’s residents holistically, not only in providing employment, but also in raising the profile of this beautiful Garden Route city, our firefighting services, and of course assisting those in need. Because of the nature of our business, the power of strength in numbers, the varied skillsets of our staff contingency, and very importantly, their willingness to participate in social upliftment, we are very well positioned to facilitate and assist in a multitude of areas.  

By way of example, this year, Oakhurst was very privileged to have been able to partner with the George Fire Department in hosting the International Firefighters’ Day (IFFD) celebrations on the 4th and 5th of May 2018. Firefighters from various Western and Southern Cape fire departments came together for the two-day event which was used to honour firefighters. It was also at the conference over this period that so many of the learnings from the Knysna fires were unpacked and strategic decisions taken which so positively impacted the outcome of the George fires last month.  

Has Oakhurst learned any lessons from the fire fighters when it came to the George Fires? 

What we witnessed from the firefighters during the George fires has been incredible. Hundreds of experts from around the country joined efforts to contain the fire with many of them having to work together for the first time. Highly volatile conditions with extreme temperature variations, heat in the high 30° Cs, strong changing winds and the vast extent of the area under threat meant that firefighters were exposed to very extended shifts in the harshest of conditions. Despite all the challenges thrown at them, they won the battle, and we witnessed the very effective mitigation of what could have been one our country’s greatest disasters ever. 

One only has to go halfway up the Outeniqua pass and look down on the vast area of black which was burned, to get a glimpse of what the firefighters were up against, but simultaneously take careful note of the beautiful green area on which our town still prevails, and which stands as a testament to the fact that they did their job, and did it well.   

We learned that the firefighters’ values are very similar to those that are central to the insurance industry - focus, resilience, tenacity, relationships and discipline are all key ingredients for success. This reinforced that these values can benefit both our personal and business lives. 

We were also reminded once again, how fortunate we are in the Western Cape, to fall under the protection of such a professional and dedicated body of Fire and Emergency Services personnel. 

Editor’s Thoughts:
With Climate Change becoming more of a reality in the insurance industry, we will see insurers becoming more proactive when it comes to managing their risk. This is the new reality for the insurance industry. Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email me your thoughts jonathan@fanews.co.za.

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