Firefighters speak out on Johannesburg CBD blaze

Firefighters say the service is in an appalling state and that they face a shocking state of affairs every day working to protect local communities.
Firefighters say the service is in an appalling state and that they face a shocking state of affairs every day working to protect local communities.
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi

Firefighters are set to break their silence about the circumstances that led to the deaths of three of their colleagues in a harrowing blaze in downtown Johannesburg three weeks ago.

"The firefighters and their union have kept a respectful silence, only broken at the packed Johannesburg Arena Memorial and at the three grave sites of their fallen comrades," Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of SA (Demawusa) national coordinator Stephen Faulkner said yesterday.

But come midday today, that silence is set to be broken. Demawusa and the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) are hosting a press conference at midday in Braamfontein.

"They [the firefighters] are breaking their silence to give a first-hand account of what exactly happened on that fateful day and what needs to be done to prevent any further tragedies of this type," Faulkner said.

"The firefighters will be revealing who they believe to be responsible for the appalling state of the fire service and the shocking state of affairs that they face every single working day in an effort to protect local communities."

Three firefighters perished while trying to extinguish the fire that engulfed the Bank of Lisbon building on September 5.

One of the firemen fell to his death, apparently while smashing open a window to escape the smoke and flames.

His two colleagues are believed to have been found on the floor close to the window he had fallen from, dead from smoke inhalation.

The Gauteng government became aware of compliance issues with the building a week before the fire.

The infrastructure development department said in a report the building only met 21% of the occupational and health standards - while targets are set in excess of 80% to meet compliance levels.

Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said anything below 85% meant a building was not supposed to be occupied.

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