Fire chief calls time on a blazing 43-year career

Cape Town’s fire chief Ian Schnetler at his farewell function at the Civic Centre. He retires after serving 43 years in the City’s fire department.

Cape Town’s fire chief Ian Schnetler joined the fire department a day after writing his final matric exam on December 3, 1979, and the rookie faced his first big fire – a double-storey house in Tamboerskloof – a few weeks later, on New Year’s Eve.

Mr Schnetler, of Edgemead, is now retiring after 43 years with the department.

After completing his formal training, in 1980, Mr Schnetler was stationed at the Wynberg fire station for four years. He was promoted to fire officer in 1985 as the youngest officer in Cape Town.

Fire officers are responsible for the internal organisation of the fire department. It’s up to them to make sure everything runs smoothly and each team member knows their role and responsibilities.

Over the years, Mr Schnetler has served in different positions at several fire stations across the city. However, he said, it was the two years spent as a training officer, from 1986, that were some of his best years in the service.

“Besides active firefighting, that was probably the best time of my career, because you could actually teach people and you could see that they were learning.”

Mr Schnetler was appointed as Cape Town’s fire chief on April 1, 2007.

“I’ve had the honour and privilege of managing one of the best fire services in the country at the moment, for the past 15 years or so,” he said.

The position had been quite challenging in the beginning, he said, but he had been supported by a knowledgeable team that had helped to ease the load. The success of a fire service department is not dependant on the station chief, but the entire staff, he said.

Mr Schnetler said he had lived his dream and would miss the fire services, but he is also looking forward to enjoying a Cape Town summer, which is usually one of the fire department’s busiest times of year.

He wished all the firefighters who will be battling fires across the city and province this summer all the best.

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith praised Mr Schnetler’s contribution to building Cape Town’s fire service.

“Firefighters run into danger and there is no doubt that it is a calling. Chief Fire Officer Schnetler comes from a family of uniform personnel, and he has continued the proud and noble tradition of serving the city. He has stayed true to his calling, has shown courage under literal fire and has done the hard yards,” said Mr Smith.

He said Mr Schnetler’s time at the firefighting front line might be over, but his time in the service would always be remembered.

Ian Schnetler as a young firefighter in the late 1980s putting out a blaze at the Natyre factory in Maitland.

Ian Schnetler during an annual fitness assessment at Mitchell’s Plain fire station in September 2014.