The families of the firefighters who died in the blaze at the Bank of Lisbon say their children walked into a death trap while trying to save lives.
This week, the families received an update from City of Joburg officials on how firefighters Simphiwe Moropane, Khathutshelo Muedi and Mduduzi Ndlovu died in the blaze.
The three were part of last September's team that responded to the fire in the government building that housed the Departments of Human Settlements, Health and Co-operative Governance and Traditional affairs.
Yesterday, Robert Moropane, Simphiwe’s father, said that after months of waiting the families were happy to get an update from the municipality.
They received a preliminary report by an external, independent expert commissioned by emergency management services (EMS) to determine what led to the deaths and whether all procedures were followed by the firefighters during the fire.
“Those boys were not at fault. Their intention in entering that building was to save the lives of employees and to extinguish the fire, not knowing they would be trapped.
“From the summary we got, it was found that some of the areas they were in had magnetic doors that needed access cards to go through. Once you enter and don't have an access card, you can't go out. Others went up and couldn't come down because the escape routes were controlled by magnetic doors. They were trapped in that building,” Moropane said.
He said the firefighters were just doing their work and did not know they were risking their lives in an unsafe building.
“They went into a death trap not knowing they might not come out. I cannot blame EMS (Emergency Management Services) because when there is a fire they have to act.”
Moropane said the families were looking forward to reading the final report when it was finished. He said they were also waiting for a report from the Gauteng provincial government about the cause of the fire.
“Once we get all these reports, at least we can move on,” Moropane said.
Spokesperson of the City of Johannesburg's public safety department, Luyanda Longwe, said although the report had not been concluded they decided to share it with the families for transparency.
“It is not our intention to open healing wounds, but to ensure the families are the first to find out what happened on that fateful day. I hope, through this process, we can all find closure in this chapter of our lives and correct what went wrong so the ultimate sacrifices by these three firefighters would not have been in vain.”
Longwe said the report released to the families was one of four, including a police inquest, which they were still waiting for. Another report was done by the City’s quality assurance team to examine the compliance levels of the building, as well as evaluate the structural integrity of the structure.
The third investigation was by the City’s Occupational Health and Safety Unit to evaluate the adherence of policy and systems procedures followed by EMS.
“The City is working on concluding the process to make the report available to the public at an appropriate forum within the coming month,” Longwe said.