Seychelles' first female chief fire officer appointed: Tally Domingue speaks of her vision
Domingue was promoted to the new post after 25 years in the field by the Minister for Internal Affairs, Errol Fonseka. (State House)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Seychellois Tally Domingue is the first female to be appointed as the chief fire officer (CFO) of the Seychelles Fire and Rescue Services Agency (SFRSA).
She was promoted to the new post after 25 years in the field by the Minister for Internal Affairs, Errol Fonseka, on October 16.
SNA met with Domingue to find out her vision for the SFRSA for the coming years.
SNA: You have been in the fire services for 25 years, how different was it then for you as compared to today?
TD: When I started out as a firefighter, there were only two of us and then it took a long time before another group of women joined. We now have women in all the fields in the fire department. We have women in communications, some are in operations, in prevention, in training. We also have a lady who is the first one to work with heavy machinery based at Anse Boileau.
Women firefighters receive the same training as their male counterparts. It takes a year to train a firefighter - six months at training school and an additional six where we give them experience.
SNA: How have you seen the development of the fire services during your 25 years?
TD: It has changed quite a bit and has its good and bad sides. The good thing is that we are an autonomous agency, which means we drive our own development and we have been able to decentralise our services.
When I started, we only had the station in town, we now have stations on La Digue and Praslin and a substation at Anse Boileau. We will be opening one at Anse Royale. We are now closer to members of the public.
In the past, we only had a prevention unit, now we also have a training unit that is separate. We have a planning unit that deals with construction projects from its planning stages until its occupancy. Lifeguards are also a part of the fire and rescue services today.
There has been a big change in the relationship between firemen. In the past firemen were closer together and more like a family with more unity. I think this is something that not only our organisation is going through, but you can see it in other workplaces as well.
We are working to bring back the sense of unity because for me this is primordial, as firemen have to work as a team, you need to be close and have a good relationship.
|Domingue said that the good thing is that Seychelles Fire and Rescue Services Agency is an autonomous agency. (State House) Photo License: CC-BY
SNA: As the first woman in charge, do you see that as a challenge and have you been groomed to take on the role?
TD: I think it is a bit of both because even if I was here, I was not in charge of the organisation and the final decision and all the responsibility was not really mine. This makes it a challenge for me, as a single mum it takes a lot of my time to do this job. I find myself working longer hours, even on Saturdays and you end up sacrificing time I could be spending with my family.
However, on the side of being prepared for the job, I have worked with my unit - The Emergency Disaster Management Unit. I have always been under the CFO's office. I have always found myself working with those in charge of administrative issues.
Where the challenging part comes is that now, the responsibility is all yours - you are no longer helping someone out, but are rather doing the job yourself.
SNA: What are the qualities that you are bringing to the table? What would you like to change?
TD: We have seen that although we have decentralised our services and have developed we have lost our firefighter procedures. There are procedures that are not in writing that should be. We are also trying our best to ensure our fire safety regulations become law.
It is still in draft form and we see there are issues that we face in fire prevention because there are no established regulations. This is a priority for me for the fire safety regulations to go through so that the officers have the backing of the law when they make their recommendations. This will ensure that fire safety is up to the standard that it should be on a national level.
We also want to have in our regulations the subject of discipline. We now use the Public Service Orders (PSO), which is not really applicable to firefighters. The discipline regulations should be on par with our procedures. There are certain aspects in the PSO that do not cover us.
There are many things that are in the pipeline and are yet to be given their rightful place but are necessary for the fire service to continue developing, such as a training school. Although we have a training service for firemen, the more we built offices at the station, the more we lost training grounds. So now we don't really have the place to put in containers where we hold hot fire exercises - we cannot expose firefighters to fire in an actual fire; it's not recommended.
Currently, we go with the training recruits to real fires and it is not safe and the element of monitoring is missing. This is why we are working to get a proper training school with all the essential facilities. This will ensure we have recruits who are trained up to the standards that when they are faced with an incident, they are ready to deal with it.
SNA: Do you offer overseas training for your officers?
TD: We don't really have the budget to send them overseas all the time. We rather reserve the funds for specific training like hazardous substances, hamates and dealing with chemicals. We tend to send the training instructors overseas so that we have continuity in training.
On the other hand, we do hold training where experts come in from overseas to train our officers in fire prevention and fire investigation.
|Domingue said her priority is for the fire safety regulations to go through so that the officers have the backing of the law when they make their recommendations. (State House) Photo License: CC-BY
SNA: Where do you see the fire services in the next five years?
TD: We are putting in place our committees to assess our situation be it where equipment is concerned or existing infrastructure. Based on the results, we will then be able to identify our priority areas. We have the equipment, but what people do not realise is that different fires require equipment to deal with.
For instance, the landfill fires should not be ours to deal with - we should be assisting the people with the specialised equipment made to deal with such fires, they should have their contingency plans in place. Firemen going to the landfill fire are in their tunic, which is a structural firefighting tunic - made to fight fires in buildings and is not adapted to landfill fires.
The heat and the winds found there mean that a firefighter will be dehydrated in a matter of minutes and the hoses we work with are also damaged when fighting the fire at the landfill. After leaving the landfill, although people think we have finished working, two weeks later we are still decontaminating the equipment we took there. In fact, we are still going to the site to ensure that it is all safe.
Seychelles has 230 firefighters for four current stations and one we plan to open soon. We separate operations, training schools, prevention planning and those working in procurement - we do not have enough personnel for all the duties they have to carry out.
SNA: Do you plan on holding extensive recruitment soon?
TD: This depends on the budget we receive as well as the posts that are approved. We are currently understaffed, so for the coming year, we had made a request to stabilise our existing workforce.
We will need 48 people to do that, so what we have done is asked for 16 people every year for the next four years. The last batch just completed their training and graduated on November 4 and they are on their shifts now, and not all have managed to pass.
Our scheme of service is quite low and is not attracting people to stay in the job. When I joined the fire brigade I said I would not leave it to work anywhere else, I will only leave when I retire. This is despite getting very tempting offers from others. There are many firefighters working in places that have used the training they have received on the force.