As Bluff house burns down, Durban resident raises alarm over state of city’s fire hydrants
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City declines to comment on fire boss’s claim that failures are common
The effectiveness of fire hydrants has raised alarm after a home on the Bluff was razed and firefighters were unable to connect to the nearest hydrant to fight the blaze.
The city has denied the equipment was an issue.
After the fire at the Snyman residence in Fynnland this week, East Coast Radio’s website reported eThekwini Fire’s Acting Division Commander Sfiso Mtshali as saying it was common for fire hydrants in Durban to be faulty.
The city has issued a written statement denying that the hydrant was a problem and did not respond to an IOS request for comment on Mtshali’s remarks.
Mtshali went on to be quoted as saying: “We find that hydrants are not in working conditions because they haven't been used for a long time.
"They have sand in them, clogging them, and rocks inside them because they are not properly maintained for some reason or the other, but that’s not our function; that’s not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to report those hydrants upon discovery that they are defective.“
The report came after the fire on Wednesday. Locals said firefighters could not find the stopcock beneath the fire hydrant in Bluff Road, across a wall from their home.
Snakes and Barbara Snyman believe the device the firefighters needed to access to ensure water supply was buried under a stretch of tarmac. He remembers it being placed on the pavement “about 12 years ago”. It apparently could not be found when they dug the soil around it.
Nikki Marais, who lives close to the Snymans’ gutted Bluff Road home, said she and others in the neighbourhood who flocked to help the couple are now worried about their fire safety, too.
“What about the hydrant outside my place?” she asked, wondering if it too could be buried under pavement tarmac.
The city also did not respond to questions about the tarmac on the pavement.
While friends and neighbours have pulled together to offer the Snymans alternative accommodation and sustenance, including dog food, there’s been much passing of the buck when it comes to who is responsible for the maintenance of fire hydrants.
“Everyone says it’s another department,” said Marais.
Local councillor Zoe Solomon said the maintenance of fire hydrants had been taken from the fire department and placed with the water department.
“It’s common knowledge and everyday experience that maintenance is not carried out on infrastructure,” she added.
The city said fire hydrant maintenance had always been the responsibility of the water department.
Marais also spoke of concern about the effectiveness of the local Jacobs Fire Station.
She said the first fire engine had arrived quickly because one of the first people to notice the blaze was an off-duty firefighter driving past.
However, the engine had arrived without water. Back-up vehicles were sent and hoses were coupled together to reach a working hydrant elsewhere in the neighbourhood.
“There were gaps with water squirting out. By the time they were done with all that there was nothing left to salvage.”
eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela confirmed that at 7.23am on Wednesday, Jacobs Fire Station received a call about the fire and were in attendance within 11 minutes.
“At this point the fire had already vented itself through the roof. Mobeni Fire Station also attended.
“There was nothing the brigade could do to save that house as the roof had collapsed, meaning we could not deploy internal firefighting crews.”
He stressed that the hydrant was not an issue.
“In any case, had the brigade had a need for additional water supply, we would have mobilised our water carrier for additional water supply. The reason that we did not mobilise this water carrier vehicle is the indication that the brigade has sufficient water supply.”
“We sympathise with those who lost their properties. However, our hydrants are not to blame.”
Meanwhile, the Snymans, who arrived from their respective workplaces when there was not much they could do, looked forlornly at the remains of their home, where furniture was charred and the roof had caved in.
“Luckily we got the Harley (Davidson motorcycle) out in time,” said Barbara, pointing at an outside shed in which it was housed.
The other “Harley” in their life, a pit bull terrier, did not survive and had to be euthanised because of the trauma of the inferno.
Their other dog, Malibu, a sausage dog, was being looked after by the Bluff Rescue Kennel at the Ecopark.
“For now, we’re just taking things one day at a time,” said Barbara.
The Independent on Saturday