By Farai Savanhu

I am paying it forward. I am paving the way for someone to have it easier than I did.”

This was the main theme of the discussion with 2018 Integrity Icon, Jocelin Flank. 

The passionate fire-fighter was in conversation with youth activist Pearl Pillay for the fourth installment of Accountability Lab South Africa’s, “Meet the Icon” sessions. The webinar took place on the 26th of November 2020. 

The discussion was a heartfelt exchange between Jocelin, Pearl and the attendees that joined. Jocelin was generous in sharing his career lessons and how they have shaped his personal life. 

The purpose of this series of conversations with former icons is to inspire young people to join the public service.  For Flank, this was an easy task; he is passionate about training the next generation of firefighters and has created programs to do just that. As he said during the webinar: “I have experiences, I have wisdom.” He hopes to impart this to those is he fortunate to mentor.

And they’d be getting a wealth of insight. Flank has 25 years experience working as a firefighter and emergency service responder in Johannesburg. He now works as a Risk and Compliance Manager in his department. 

Hosting Flank was Pillay,  who is Managing Director of YouthLab, a policy think-tank that provides various platforms for young people to exchange ideas, develop strategies and execute plans that will enhance the lives of young South Africans.

The webinar kicked off with Jocelin reminiscing about his earlier days as a firefighter. He recalled the deep sense of camaraderie that he and his colleagues shared. “You become family,” Jocelin said, given the hours and sometimes days away from home. 

This work family he created was critical in maintaining his mental well-being.

He recalled being told from the outset that “what you are going to see as a firefighter will affect you psychologically, so do not be afraid to speak about it”. For Flank, this has led to a wholehearted embracing of mental wellbeing, and not being afraid to share his emotions – or to seek help. “We’ve had access to psychologists and therapists but we found that the best way to de-stress and treat ourselves, was talking to each other.”

This extended to keeping each other safe: being honest, and relying on each other was critical. A false show of strength did no one any favours. His instructors used to tell them, a dead hero is a useless hero”. This meant, “always remaining vigilant, always do the right thing and always work with someone so that if you’re in trouble in a building, your friend can tell you: ‘It’s time to get out’.”

Flank also spoke about his experience of being celebrated as one of the Integrity Icons: a campaign run by Accountability Lab to celebrate and honour public servants serving with integrity. Being appreciated as a public servants is invaluable, as Jocelin related a story about the kindness of community members he encountered. He recalled an incident where a lady saw the work they did and later brought food to them. They were also invited to her place. “It was really nice to see how people looked at us as firefighters, understood what we did and admired us at some points as well.” 

Closing off the webinar, one of the participants asked him what kept him motivated, to which he responded: “What motivates me is seeing that youngsters in society have opportunities. if I can be a catalyst for those opportunities, then that is what I want to do.”

Public service is a calling and Jocelin exemplifies that. 

Listen to the conversation here: