Arson at fire department

2009-07-16 00:00

A FIRE was deliberately started in the Msunduzi Fire Department early yesterday in what is believed to be the latest escalation in the conflict between firefighters and management.

The police are investigating a case of arson.

Fire Department Chief Billy Paton said the fire is “linked to the current unrest in the department. I don’t know why, but the intention was to burn down the administration building”.

Speculation is rife that the fire was an inside job. Management and firefighters are pointing fingers at one another.

The incident follows two acts of sabotage iat the fire station in recent weeks.

Insiders told The Witness that a saboteur tampered with a computer box in one of the new fire engines. According to one source, the damage in the computer box would have caused the engine to overheat.

In another incident, wheel nuts on one of the fire engines were removed.

The arsonist apparently started the fire after the firefighters were called out on a false alarm. A caller had alerted them to an emergency in the central business district . When they arrived at the scene they found a smouldering rubbish bin.

A cleaner at the station saw the fire when she was doing her rounds at about 7 am. She called a firefighter who doused the fire before it could damage the furniture.

The fire was started in the passage leading to Paton’s office on the second floor. The carpet in the passage and the door on the stairway leading to the passage were burnt. The fire was contained before it reached the wooden walls.

Below Paton’s office at the entrance to the operations department, a two-litre plastic container filled with petrol was found lying next to the door and ashes were found nearby. It is believed that the arsonist set the fire on the second floor before trying to do the same on the first floor.

The arsonist is thought to be familiar with the station and has access to the station. The entrance and exit are operated by a finger-print access control system. One needs to scan one’s finger for the gate to open.

“If the suspect went out through the gate, he or she would have to scan their finger for the gate to open,” said one of the management staff.

The firefighters held a meeting yesterday at which they discussed the possibility of embarking on a strike to have their concerns addressed.

Firefighters who spoke to The Witness on condition of anonymity said that chief among their concerns is to see the department’s management changed because of its alleged racism and favouritism.

They also want to have senior firefighter Mbulelo Majola reinstated following his suspension last week, allegedly for inciting staff.

They said Majola is fighting for the upgrading of the fire fleet and equipment.

The firemen said Majola’s reasons for suspension are minor compared to some of the serious offences committed by other staff such as abuse of council resources and sexual harassment.

They claim that management favours non-black firefighters.

Two coloured firefighters were allegedly given warnings over alleged offences. One allegedly groped a female firefighter in the department’s toilets and other firefighters came to her rescue.

Another firefighter was reportedly caught on camera taking a department vehicle to buy drugs in Eastwood.

The acting deputy municipal manager for community services, Lungisani Kunene, was told by the firefighters that if the feedback from council management is not positive, then the entire community services division, comprising traffic and security, waste management and parks and recreation, will embark on a strike.

The response of the management is expected tomorrow.




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