South Africa: Johannesburg: Firefighters take a break after working around the clock to extinguish the blaze at the Bank of Lisbon building. Three firefighter died and many others were hospitalised in the incident. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
The City of Joburg has admitted that it doesn’t have the necessary equipment to extinguish fires in the metro, with an alarming number of buildings condemned as death traps.

This came to light in the wake of the Bank of Lisbon building fire that claimed the lives of three firefighters last week.

City of Joburg MMC for community safety Michael Sun said their fire engines were not fully equipped to deal with blazes in tall buildings.

This is despite the increase in recent years of high-rise structures in areas like Sandton and Rosebank.

Sun said the city was only now trying to procure fire engines with extra-length ladders.

Last week, city firefighters struggled to contain a fire at the Bank of Lisbon building that led to three of their members - Simphiwe Moropane, Mduduzi Ndlovu and Khathutshelo Muedi - dying and several others ending up in hospital.

Firefighters who spoke to The Star said: “We don’t have fire engines that can fight fires that are above five storeys. This is why it took us so long to extinguish the Bank of Lisbon fire.”

The fire at the building, which houses three provincial departments, started on the 23rd floor, quickly spreading to other floors.

Sun said he didn't know if any metropolitan or department in South Africa has a ladder that can reach that height (23 storeys). 

"Overseas maybe, but definitely not locally. We have been considering getting a longer ladder for the fire engines. If you look at Rosebank and Sandton, the buildings are getting higher and higher.

“If we are not able to keep up with these new superstructures, we are certainly not doing ourselves any favours.”

He said currently there were about 18 fire engines in the city and in the next few days, a tender for the procurement of more than 20 others would be concluded.

Sun said that when high-rise buildings are constructed, they can't depend only on emergency services for safety, but they should have their own sprinklers and hydrants that firefighters can use.

A firefighter who was trapped inside the Bank of Lisbon building for several hours said they had been complaining about their safety gear.

“It is not compliant with safety standards, and so it puts our lives in danger.

“We also have a problem with our safety officers who go out to these buildings to ensure they are compliant. They take bribes,” the firefighter said.

Sun said they would investigate the claims.

The firefighter described the hopelessness of being trapped by a disengaged magnetic door and being unable to save colleagues crying out for help.

“Our oxygen tanks ran out and we could not breathe. I could hear Muedi crying out and coughing. Eventually he went quiet. I thought I was also going to die,” he said.

Despite the tragedy, the firefighter has words of encouragement for his colleagues.

"I love my job. I want us to continue where the others left off. We chose to serve the community and have to continue doing it."

Health employee unions have been getting legal advice because they want to sue the provincial Health Department over the fire.

@TebogoMonama; @smashaba