Ekurhuleni yet to act against negligent senior manager
Child died after firefighters were unable to respond to the shack fire – report
The City of Ekurhuleni is yet to take action against a senior manager whose alleged negligence was found to have resulted in the tragic death of a child in a fire.
This is more than a year after an investigation was concluded.
An investigation report by the city’s compliance division revealed that on November 7 2020, the Duduza fire station was left severely understaffed with only two firefighters on duty but neither of them were qualified to operate a fire engine.
As a result, the two fire fighters were unable to respond to the shack fire at Bluegum Informal Settlement which claimed the life of Luke Chauke, 6. Luke’s sister Simphiwe, 4, was injured.
Instead, the emergency call about the shack fire was referred to the Nigel fire station which took 15 minutes to respond and by then, the community had put out the fire.
The report which was concluded in May last year uncovered how the neglect of official duties at the fire station led to a delayed response.
The investigation, which was initiated following a complaint received on March 8 last year, has exposed serious allegations of misconduct against regional manager in the office of emergency management services, Agnes Makwane, who was promoted to the position in March 2020, months before the incident occurred.
“If personnel for overtime was arranged, Duduza fire station could have had capacity for speedy response and this incident could have been avoided," reads the report in part.
Investigators stated that Makwane claimed that she was neither on duty nor on standby on the weekend of November 7 2020 and she only became aware of the incident in March last year.
However, an email dated February 5 2022, highlighted her previous inquiries about the same incident.
The investigation also revealed that Makwane failed to collate and verify statistical reports from the firefighters who attended the scene.
Her job description according to the forensic report explicitly outlined responsibilities related to monitoring and evaluating approved work programmes, schedules and procedural requirements, none of which were carried out.
The report criticised Makwane for failing to maintain order and discipline among her subordinates, as she admitted to protecting her managers without providing further clarity.
The investigation’s findings concluded that Makwane neglected her duties by failing to discipline her subordinates and address the severe manpower shortage on the fateful day.
Hammuso Motaung, one of the firefighters on duty, recounted the incident, stating that she and her colleague, Ludick Matsemane, were unable to respond to the fire call due to a lack of authority to drive the fire pump truck.
Mandla Nkambule, a firefighter from Nigel, received the call for help and promptly responded to the fire. However, by the time they arrived at the scene, community members had already managed to extinguish the fire.
Nkambule's account highlighted the challenges they faced due to the lack of trained personnel to operate the fire engine truck, resulting in delays and compromised emergency response.
Ekurhuleni disaster and emergency management services spokesperson, William Ntladi, said the “query brought to the department’s attention is being taken into cognisance”.
“The city is aware and the matter is being dealt with internally through normal municipal processes,” he said.
The mother of the children, Annah Chauke, is still struggling to deal with her loss, according to the neighbour Ntombifuthi Moephuti, who was the first person to arrive at the scene.
“I was doing my [laundry] outside around 8am when my youngest child came to tell me there was smoke coming out next door. I shouted the names of the kids and they responded and they were screaming.
“I also screamed to get the attention of other residents. I rushed to the house and managed to open the door and took Simphiwe out,” Moephuti described the harrowing ordeal.
“Luke didn’t make it unfortunately and he was at the door almost out but the fire got too big. Luckily there was a soccer match played close by so the community came to put out the fire. The emergency arrived when the shack was in ashes,” Moephuti said.
Deputy general secretary of the Municipal Employees and Civil Servants Union, Thembelihle Sibeko, expressed frustration over the municipality’s lack of action.
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