Fire-fighting fiasco

2009-06-13 00:00

THE Msunduzi Municipality fire-fighters were unable to quell flames that gutted the Colonial Building in Church Street yesterday because their equipment was below standard.

The challenges faced by the fire department were exposed and the Msunduzi Municipality’s fire engines proved inadequate for the job of putting out the fire.

Instead, two fire engines from Umgungundlovu District Municipality — that Weekend Witness learnt were from Howick — came to the city’s rescue.

Fire-fighters who wished to remain anonymous alleged that they battled for almost half-an-hour to get three of the four fire engines started before responding to the call-out.

The fire department is only about 500 metres away from the Colonial Building. However, it took the fire crews almost two hours to start fighting the fire. Three of four Msunduzi Municipality fire engines at the scene did not play a role in fighting the fire.

One of two city fire engines in good working condition supplied water to the hosepipes of a Howick fire engine. The only other city fire engine in good working order is stationed at Oribi Airport and cannot leave its base.

Before the Howick fire engines arrived, the city’s fire-fighters struggled with perished hoses which malfunctioned because of insufficient pressure.

The fire spread to the back of the building as the fire-fighters struggled with their faulty hoses.

The only fire engine with a hydraulic platform for reaching high places was not effective because the pump supplying hydraulic pressure to the platform was inadequate. Fire-fighters resorted to quelling the fire, which had by this time reached the third floor, by spraying water on to it from the ground floor.

One of the fire engines, NPC 5026, which is said was more than 20 years old, failed to start at the scene and the crew were unable to move it out of the way.

Onlookers watched in dismay as the fire crews battled to quench the blaze. Some bystanders berated the fire-fighters, saying they had not received sufficient training and that it was fortunate that no one had been trapped in the building.

A resident wrote to Weekend Witness: “It appears as if the maintenance and upkeep of the PMB fire-fighting services is in a shocking state. How many more incidents like this before our municipality takes action?”

Another resident who watched in horror said: “I was astounded to see that, for the half-hour after the fire department got to the fire, they managed to get maybe 100 litres of water on to it. Their hoses were springing leaks and bursting; they were ill-coordinated in managing the connections to hydrants.”

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