Johannesburg - A magnetic door that had not been disengaged at the time of the Joburg CBD fire is alleged to have been the reason three firemen died after being trapped inside the burning building.
As there was no fire escape in the building, one plunged to his death after slipping and falling out the window he just broke to be able to breathe while two others were trapped inside, where they later died.
This is according to one of the firefighters at the scene on that fateful day, saying his colleagues were failed by the very same building they tried to save from the blaze.
He said all the talk about equipment and whether the dead men’s training had been adequate was just “nonsense”.
“They were killed by that building. It was not compliant and it killed them,” the angry man said.
Five firefighters were trapped on the 23rd floor where the fire started. One plunged to his death, one was burnt and the other died of smoke inhalation.
Speaking to The Star on Friday morning, the firefighter said when they are sent to a building to extinguish a blaze, they do not know the layout of a building or anything about it.
When they arrived there a fire marshal was supposed to meet them and explain the layout of the building so that they would know where to go.
In this instance, he said, it does not seem as if there was a fire marshall. He says the building's occupants must have panicked and fled the scene.
As the fire started on the 23rd floor, the firefighter said his colleagues went there, looking for the source.
“There is only one door to get in(to the building). It was made of wood and (had a) magnetic (lock) and opened by using a tag. When my colleagues got there it was open. Staff (working inside the building) must have left it like that when they fled as soon as the fire started.”
The man said while his colleagues were busy, the wind closed the door. The firefighters tried in vain to open the door, which should have been disabled when the fire was detected. They even tried to break down the door.
Overwhelmed by the heat and smoke, they looked for a fire escape but there was none. With their oxygen running out, they broke the window but one slipped out of the window and fell to his death.
“As we were busy battling the fire, we heard on our radios that our colleagues were trapped. The police chopper went and managed to rescue two.”
He said they also saw one of the firefighters taking their jacket off and flagging the chopper, hoping to be rescued. Unfortunately, help did not come on time.
The man said the maintenance people at the Bank of Lisbon building should have ensured at the time of the fire that all doors were open.
He also said that even the pipes in the building which are supposed to carry water were dry.
Spokeswoman for the Johannesburg Emergency Services Nana Radebe could not confirm the allegations, saying they have not yet started the investigations or even interviewed the other two firefighters who were receiving medical attention.
“The two who were there with the deceased firefighters are still in hospital and are very traumatised. We still speak to them either today or tomorrow.
Radebe said the men had all their breathing apparatus with them and that it lasts for 30 minutes.
The men, he said, were trapped between for about two hours and they were battling to find the other firefighter.