Where there's smoke there will be fire trucks, says Joburg as it secures 20 new vehicles

The burning Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg in which three firefighters died in 2018. The city's old fire engines are to be replaced.
The burning Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg in which three firefighters died in 2018. The city's old fire engines are to be replaced.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

As Joburgers brace for increased rates, taxes, electricity, water and refuse removal costs come July 1, there will be one highlight — the city’s inadequate fleet of old fire engines is about to be upscaled.

The development comes after bungled attempts to procure new vehicles landed up in court, leaving the city with only seven to 11 fire engines operational each day — to serve about 30 fire stations.

But this is about to change, according to city spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane, who said a new fleet of 20 specialised vehicles had been acquired in line with a court ruling.

Attempts to address the shortage of fire engines in Joburg began in 2015 when the city agreed to pay R161m to Fire Raiders for 29 vehicles. But only five were delivered.

“Fire Raiders went wheels up and that was the end of it,” said an Emergency Services Management insider, who asked not to be identified. This led to the issuing of a new tender in 2018 — but it was withdrawn due to irregularities.

Then, TFM Industries was awarded a R582.9m tender for 92 new vehicles, known as “the red fleet”. Between September and November 2019 the city paid more than R172m for trucks that had not been received.

After TFM delivered only 15 grass fire units, the court found that procurement processes had been flouted and declared the balance of the contract to be unlawful and invalid. The judge ordered TFM to deliver the vehicles the city had bought and paid for, and pay back all the profits it had made.

The upshot of the delayed procurement of new vehicles and the failures of the current ageing fleet is an ongoing critical shortage of fire engines. The emergency services worker said that for the past several months there had been only five operational fire engines serving the entire city.

“At one stage we had one vehicle for Randburg, Brixton, Roosevelt Park, Dobsonville, Roodepoort and the (Joburg) CBD. But now it’s back in the workshop,” he said, adding that the closest fire engines for the whole area were stationed either at Diepsloot or Eldorado Park.

Citing a recent gas tanker explosion on the highway close to the Buccleuch Interchange, the worker said the closest available fire engine that could respond was from Alexandra.

“There was nothing in Midrand, Ivory Park or Sandton,” he said, adding that the hazardous materials unit was dispatched from Modderfontein, with the next closest vehicle coming from Florida Park.

But Modingoane says the new fleet has already been acquired and will mean more effective responses to fire and rescue incidents. The new vehicles will be placed at stations according to an area risk analysis.

The 20 new red fleet vehicles which the court ordered to be delivered are: five medium fire rescue vehicles, four water tankers, seven rapid intervention vehicles, two industrial pumpers and two heavy-duty rescue units.

And more have been ordered in line with another vehicle procurement plan beginning with the 2021/22 financial year, with a budget divided over three years.

This means that the red fleet will be boosted by another 15 heavy-duty fire and rescue vehicles, two water tankers, a telescopic aerial ladder and one hydraulic platform this year alone.

Modingoane said that from 2022 to 2024 another five heavy-duty fire and rescue vehicles, two more aerial ladders and another hydraulic platform will be acquired.

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