This extraordinary woman has made a fundamental difference in a male-dominated workspace

Wilma Rachel Julies is a firefighter who works on an explosives manufacturing site, 21 years after starting as a municipal firefighter.

In 1998 she was 26, unemployed and from a very poor community in Wellington when she started her training, with no idea of what firefighters do. Now she’s in her 40s and working for a well-known international company, supporting herself and her family, after working her way up the ladder (apologies for the pun!).

We take a closer look at Wilma’s job – what motivated her to become a firefighter and what she loves most about her work…

Where are you from originally?

Wellington.

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How long have you been working at Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM)?

One year.

What motivated you to become a firefighter?

I was 26 years old, unemployed with no tertiary education. A friend of mine mentioned that the fire department was busy recruiting people interested in becoming firefighters. I applied, was accepted and started my career as a reservist. Before I started, I had no clue about the work firefighters do.

Tell us about your work before you joined RDM

I started as a reservist in 1998 and became permanent in January 1999, where I worked as a learner firefighter for two and a half years. Thereafter, I became a firefighter according to the rank structure for the remainder of my career at Drakenstein Municipality, until I left in April 2017.

Tell us why you joined RDM and in what capacity?

In January 2018, a colleague informed me that there were firefighter positions available at the RDM Wellington Site. It was the biggest opportunity in my life and I could not resist being part of such a well-known company.

How have your colleagues reacted to you joining RDM?

My colleagues were amazingly welcoming and accepting, seeing that mostly men worked in the industry.

What is the best part of your job?

Teaching my fellow employees how to be safe and to use fire equipment.

What do you like about working at RDM?

I am exposed to many challenges on a daily basis, improvement of management skills, to be innovative and solving problems. RDM gives me opportunities to think critically on my feet.

What can be a challenge in your job?

As one of the first responders on a scene, you face serious risks on the job.

What is the best part of your day?

The best part is knowing that I accomplished my goals and tasks that I set out for the day.

What do you wish other people at RDM knew about fighting fires?

My wish for people at RDM is to know that it is not just about grabbing a hose or extinguisher to extinguish a fire. Know that there are different types of fires that requires different methods to extinguish them.

What’s the one thing most people don’t know or don’t understand about firefighting?

Most people don’t know or understand the behaviours and unpredictability of fires and the dangers a fire poses.

Please tell us a bit more about the physical demands of your job – do you have to do additional training to stay fit?

Your response time to any incident is vital and requires you to be physically fit, therefore it is of utmost importance to stay physically fit and healthy.

What advice would you give to young people thinking of firefighting/rescue service as a career?

Most importantly, they need to complete their higher education. It is also important to be passionate about people and saving lives. The job poses its own challenges, like shift work and standbys. You must have the ability to work in a team because firefighting is all about teamwork.

 

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