Refurbishments at fire stations in Joburg are under way following the deaths of three firefighters in a blaze at the Bank of Lisbon building in the CBD last year. Firefighters had complained about under-resourced fire stations and inadequate equipment. File picture.
Johannesburg - If there happened to be a serious fire in Kensington, the nearest fire engine would have to be dispatched from either Randburg or Brixton, a journey that would take at least 30 minutes.

The Joburg executive mayor Herman Mashaba said that there are seven operational fire engines in the City, as emergency services struggle to cope with the ongoing shortage.

These fire engines have been strategically deployed across the six districts in the city but it does mean there are gaps in the coverage, and the Saturday Star understands that there are no fire engines stationed in the north of Joburg and none servicing the inner city.

“In the event any fire station did not have an available fire engine for whatever reason, that fire station will be supported by the next available fire station and engine,” a statement issued by Mashaba said, adding that five more fire engines were expected to be operational in the following week, after repairs.

Joburg Emergency Management Services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said that the fire engines had been placed close to Joburg’s informal settlements, as these areas become vulnerable to fire in winter.

“The only disadvantage to residents is response times, where rather than the fire engine arriving in 15 minutes it is arriving in half an hour or more,” said Mulaudzi.

Mashaba emphasised that residents must phone the call centre on (011) 3755911 or 10177, rather than the individual fire stations.

But Mpho Mpogeng the president of the South African Emergency Personnel’s Union said that Joburg’s fire engine shortage had been a problem for over a year.

The shortage had also put a strain on firefighters who often have to face the wrath of the community for arriving late at fire scenes. He blames politicians for the shortage.

“They will try their level best to politicise everything and say the previous administration failed and took all the money. But it is the community that suffering,” he said.

Mashaba said the root of the fire engine shortage was a tender awarded on the basis of forged Bid Evaluation Committee documents. This contract would have provided Joburg with 29 new fire engines.

“As a result of the supplier not able to meet its contractual obligations as a result of it going into business rescue, and given the fraudulent tender process, the City was left with no option but to cancel the R161 million contract for the provision of fire engines,” said the statement.

The City was able to salvage five new and two newly refurbished fire engines from the supplier.

The mayor said after the termination of the previous contract a new procurement process had been initiated. This should be finalised in the coming days.

This will allow the City to acquire 92 additional EMS vehicles including fire and rescue vehicles. 

“This will result in the 30 fire stations in the City each receiving a new fire engine,” the statement read.

Malaudzi said these fire engines would be the full complement needed for the City.