Three firefighters dead in Joburg building blaze

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JOHANNESBURG, September 5 – Three firefighters have died and 13 employees of the Gauteng Department of Health have been admitted to hospital for smoke inhalation following the blaze which raged on the upper floors of a government building in the heart of the Johannesburg CBD.

Gauteng MEC for Infrastructure Development Jacob Mamabolo confirmed the deaths of the three firefighters, one of whom fell from the upper floors of the 23-storey building at around 11 am following an explosion.

Joburg MMC for Safety Michael Sun said the two other firefighters who died had been trapped inside the building and their bodies were in the process of being brought down.

Sun said eight other firefighters have been admitted to the hospital, seven with injuries of various degrees, while one was admitted for exhaustion.

Mamabolo also confirmed that the building was “not compliant” in terms of health and safety regulations, saying that according to a report they received last week following a study which had been commissioned, the building, called theĀ  Bank of Lisbon building, was only 21% compliant. Ideally, the building should be 85% or higher compliant.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng called for a full investigation into the tragedy.

Shocked onlookers had earlier watched on in horror when a firefighter fell from one of the top floors of the burning building.

Witnesses said the fire broke out on the top floor at around 10h30. The building also houses the Department of Human Settlements, as well as the Bank of Lisbon.

Commenting on the tragedy, Jack Bloom, the DA spokesperson on health in Gauteng, said he had been asking the provincial government about the safety of the workers in the building. However, he said his pleas had fallen on deaf ears.

“It is very distressing that something like this is happening. One of the things that workers have been complaining about for a long time is that they are unsafe. There are allegations that the building is condemned and that it contravenes health and safety regulations,” Bloom said.

“I have put out questions to the Department of Infrastructure Development because it owns the building, but I am yet to receive a response, their answer is overdue by a month now. There needs to be a full investigation into the cause of the fire and why employees have been complaining. The department should have responded earlier.”

– African News Agency (ANA)