How to get a private fire brigade in Joburg without (necessarily) insuring with Discovery

Business Insider SA

News analysis

  • Johannesburg now has two Discovery-branded fire engines on call.
  • The Discovery Insure Fire Force is operated by Fire Ops SA, adding new vehicles to its private fire-fighting fleet.
  • You can pay the same company for preferential access to that fleet, or just summon it if you have a fire.
  • But that could get tricky.
  • For more stories go to

The City of Johannesburg has a long-standing crisis of too few fire engines, and has for seven years failed to run a valid tender process to buy new ones. It now anticipates taking at least another year to buy more fire trucks. In the meanwhile, it has a theoretical capacity to field 11 trucks to cover the entire metropolitan area, though the reality is somewhat less on any given day.

So this week, Discovery Insure launched its Fire Force, two fully-equipped fire engines carrying the trademark blue Discovery branding, plus "a number" of rapid-response vehicles.

That should make the experience of a fire very different for Discovery Insure customers, as opposed to those relying on the city to put out fires.

In the event of a fire, Joburg residents are urged not to phone their local fire station – which on average will not have a fire engine available to dispatch – but either the 112 emergency number by cellphone, or the general 10177 number, or the City of Johannesburg's Emergency Connect centre on 011 375 5911.

Those numbers all have highly variable answer times and levels of service.

Discovery Insure customers, on the other hand, can phone the private Discovery Emergency Services number, 0860 999 911 – with fast response times.

The City of Johannesburg may send out metro police, or ask for help from neighbouring municipalities.

Discovery – which has a direct financial interest in putting out fires fast – says it will send "a rapid intervention vehicle that is fitted with an ultra-high-pressure (UHP) pump system, while mobilising additional resources."

Its initial response vehicle will be quite effective against smaller fires, Discovery says.

How to get private fire fighting without Discovery

Discovery's Fire Force is run with Fire Ops SA, a unit of the company Advanced EMS.

The services of Fire Ops – and its existing fleet of fire engines – is available to people in the Johannesburg metropolitan area directly. You can pay a R690 annual subscription to be a subscriber, if you have a stand-alone house, or R4,500 if you have an agricultural plot.

Subscription does not cover the cost of a call-out, but offers the promise of "preference to the member over any other (non-paying) incident", so equipment may be diverted from a fire elsewhere.

The actual cost of fighting the fire is still the responsibility of the property owner; that bill should be handed over to an insurance company as soon as possible, says Fire SA.

There is no guarantee that another insurance company would pay such a bill, or could be compelled to do so, when public fire fighting services are, in theory, available. 

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