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Safety first and always

Rae-lyn Hammond wanted to be a firefighter since she was a young girl and now the fitness enthusiast enjoys living her dream every day at EGA

Emirates Global Aluminium’s bold aspiration of ‘putting safety first and always’ is the first priority for everyone working at the company, and especially to Rae-lyn Hammond. She joined EGA as the first women firefighter a year ago.

“It's safety before anything else. That's number one,” says Rae-lyn.

“It’s my job to make sure that everything is in standing order and that any potential hazards are reported,” adds the South African Fire Marshal.

“I always encourage firefighters to be aware of their surroundings and be aware of everything and everyone. At EGA, it’s safety first & always.”

Firefighting safety at EGA starts with preventing fires happening in the first place. The team conducts constant safety inspections checking everything from making sure that bins are not placed dangerously close to smoking areas to the integrity of the 740 different buildings on-site. The team also does frequent training sessions, fitness assessments and rescue plans and drills.

As a fitness enthusiast, Rae-lyn’s favourite pastime is exercising at the gym. She was selected to assemble and lead a team to represent EGA at an international firefighter challenge.

“I love everything about being a firefighter – from putting yourself out there to save someone else, to the fact that it keeps me motivated on my fitness journey because you have to be fit to be a firefighter,” she says.

Ever since childhood, Rae-lyn, from South Africa’s garden province KwaZulu-Natal, wanted to be a firefighter. Although the journey to where she is today wasn’t straightforward, she made her dream a reality.

“I was always fascinated with firefighting but, you know, society makes it seem as if this type of work is beyond women’s reach.” says Rae-lyn.

Instead, the 30-year-old initially pursued a business degree, before then switching to law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“During my summer break in my third year of law, they were looking for female firefighters to participate in a learnership program at one of the training academies,” she recalls. “I was like ‘oh, this seems interesting’. Let me just try it”.

“So, I went along and there were over 50 women there. To my surprise, I was the top achiever throughout the programme. So, I had to make a choice between carrying on with my law degree or pursuing my childhood dream to become a firefighter. Firefighting felt like where I needed to be, and my family supported me in that decision.”

After working her way up, the firefighting ranks in South Africa, Rae-lyn was faced with another choice, moving to the UAE to join EGA or pursuing a municipality firefighting position in her homeland.

“I chose to join EGA and it has just been amazing,” she says. “It's quite different from back home because it's more industrial firefighting as opposed to working in a municipality.”

EGA has around 80 firefighters working at both Al Taweelah and Jebel Ali. The crews include Emirati, Sri Lankan, Filipinos, Indian, Zimbabwean, and Botswanan nationals. Rae-Lyn was joined by a second female colleague, a Botswanan, this summer.

Although Rae-lyn was often the only female firefighter in her teams while working in South Africa, she admits that her first couple of days working in the UAE had challenges.

“When I first got here, the team wasn’t used to having a woman around,” she says. “However, it didn’t take long for the team to welcome me as part of the brigade.”

While real fire incidents at EGA are relatively rare, part of ‘putting safety first and always’ at the largest industrial organisation outside of oil and gas in the UAE is responding promptly when things do go awry.

“Recently, there was a fire at one of the potlines and I was frontline in dealing with that,” says Rae-lyn. “Incidents don’t happen often, thanks to the diligence and safety precautions practiced throughout the organisation. But when that did happen, I instantly got that ‘oh, I’m back in action’ feeling and that adrenaline rush.”

Rae-lyn revels in pursuing her childhood dream at EGA.

“When you are a firefighter, well, you're doing it with passion,” says Rae-lyn. “And I actually really mean it when I say I enjoy being at EGA because of the leadership support and the ample opportunity for women to grow at every level within the organisation.

“It is evident to me how the leadership is empowering women at EGA and creating new career paths in traditional and non-traditional roles, effectively pushing women to follow their dreams.”

“I encourage other women to pursue their passion. They will fit in perfectly because the team here is very welcoming, and so is the management.

“I see a future at EGA, and I know that I want to make it to the top of my field.”