Johannesburg - Three firefighters have lost their lives following a fire at the departments of Health and Human Settlements building in the Joburg CBD, Gauteng Infrastructure MEC Jacob Mamabolo confirmed on Wednesday.
It was initially reported that one firefighter had died when he fell from one of the top floors of the burning government building.
The firefighter was responding to the blaze at the building when he fell to his death. As he lay on the ground, the gold foil he had been covered with kept blowing away. Next to his body was his helmet and oxygen tank.
Mamabolo, briefing the media, confirmed that two more firefighters have died trying to extinguish the deadly fire.
He also confirmed that 13 health workers have also been hospitalised.
Joburg MMC for Safety Michael Sun corroborated this, adding that 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 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 the 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 10.30am. The building also houses 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."
* This is a developing story
Additional reporting by ANA