Parliament burns again in Cape Town.Photo Armand Hough/Afrcannewsagency(ANA)
Parliament burns again in Cape Town.Photo Armand Hough/Afrcannewsagency(ANA)

Parliament fire: Public Works to fast track procurement of independent engineering specialist team

By Mayibongwe Maqhina Time of article published Jan 7, 2022

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THE Department of Public Works and Infrastructure said on Friday it has activated steps for the procurement of an independent specialist engineering team to conduct further detailed assessments on damage caused by fire in Parliament.

This comes after the department’s internal professional team of engineers conducted and concluded a high level preliminary visual assessment of the damage, including the safety aspect of the site, of the parts of Parliament damaged by fire.

In a statement, the department said the internal professional team of engineers arrived in Cape Town on Monday morning.

The team was provided access for the inside walk inspection of the Old and New Assembly.

“Unfortunately due to the high temperatures in the building on Monday 3 January 2022 and the flare up on the side of the National Assembly around 17h00 which continued right through the night, the professional team could only commence with their assessment late Tuesday 4 January 2022 afternoon.

“The professional team’s visual assessment started with the Old National Assembly and then proceeded to assess the structural damages on the New National Assembly,” the department said.

It also said the preliminary visual inspections showed there was evidence of severe structural damage to the slabs.

“The slabs affected by the damage are on the second, third and fourth floor. In addition to the above there are major cracks in the walls on the second and third floor.”

The department said the professional team recommended that the New Assembly Building be cordoned off and closed with immediate effect in order to restrict access.

“The Department has activated appropriate steps for the procurement of an independent specialist engineering team to conduct further detailed assessments and testing of material strength.

“National Treasury has agreed to expedite the process to procure the independent specialist engineering team as expeditiously as possible,” said the department.

Meanwhile, Parliament said that the report of the City of Cape Town’s Fire Department, which it received on Friday on the blaze in the parliamentary complex, would assist the ongoing investigations that are under way.

Spokesperson Moloto Mothapo confirmed that the presiding officers had received the fire and safety report from City of Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis.

Mothapo said the report contained preliminary observations of the firefighters during the course of their work, which was a standard procedure when dealing with incidents of this nature.

“The information does not, in any way, purport to provide conclusive findings and evidence regarding the cause and the circumstances surrounding the fire that gutted certain buildings at the Parliamentary precinct.

“The responsibility to investigate the source of the fire rests with the law enforcement agencies, and their investigation is currently under way,” Mothapo said.

He also said the fire department’s report was important and would assist the ongoing investigations.

“These investigations must be afforded space to unfold. Parliament will only comment after these investigations are concluded and we are confident that they will be finalised in due course, and will provide concrete evidence and findings regarding the fire,” Mothapo said.

He made the statement after the City of Cape Town’s fire department said earlier that it found that the sprinkler system was last serviced in 2017.

This emerged in a report the city made public, with Hill-Lewis saying it was a post-incident report, prepared by the city’s fire department on the fire that engulfed Parliament.

“In the interests of transparency, and following great public interest, we release it publicly without any additional comment,” he said.

The report, dated January 4, said it was not “an official” fire report on the incident that left extensive damage to the Old Assembly and the National Assembly.

In the report, divisional commander Wayne Visser said he did a “brief check” of fire suppression equipment and related fire safety matters at the Old Assembly building site.

“The external fire hydrants were well marked and maintained; adequate access provided.

“The sprinkler control valve set on the southern façade of the Old Assembly building had not activated. Sprinklers did not activate.

“The sprinklers were last serviced in 2017, with service scheduled for (February) 2020,” Visser said.

He also said it was unclear which portion of the building was actually fitted out with sprinklers.

“The required layout block plan at the valve set was illegible,” he said.

He said the fire detection and alarm was present but he was uncertain of the extent of the system, because of the extensive damage that had occurred.

Visser also said general fire informational signage was well presented although some non-SABS signs were found.

“A major contributing factor to the excessive heat and smoke encountered throughout the building was the open-latching of fire doors onto the fire escape staircases, using small metal latches.

“The ’rabbit warren’ of locked office configurations, off feeder passages, negatively affected any ventilation occurring from inner spaces,” he said.

According to Visser, the emergency staircases were poorly ventilated with minimal natural vents encountered to the outside, and that no mechanical venting of the staircases was observed.

“Wall panelling and décor materials presented additional fire loading throughout the building,” he said.

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