Firefighting fiasco: Specialist speaks out on what went wrong in Colonial Building blaze

2009-05-15 00:00

A FULL investigation into the debacle surrounding the Msunduzi Fire Brigade’s inability to quell the fire that ravaged the Colonial Building on Friday should be launched, and those who were found to be responsible for the faulty equipment, held to account.

That’s the view of a firefighting specialist who spoke to The Witness over the weekend.

The specialist, who asked not to be named for professional reasons, said that the Pietermaritzburg firefighting unit had once been among the best in the country.

He said the responsibility to ensure that the fire brigade is in full readiness for any emergency, lay squarely in the lap of the fire chief.

“Fire trucks should be tested on a daily basis. If they are found to be faulty, it is the duty of the chief fire officer to make out a report and send it to council, and to request the necessary funds. It is up to him to ensure that council realise the gravity of the situation and that funds are alloca­ted.”

He said checklists were a normal part of a fire officer’s working day.

“If a piece of equipment is not in working order, the checklist must reflect who it was reported to. Each shift is responsible for the equipment they will use.

“The hoses that they used to fight the fire on Friday were like a sieve. But these should have been pressure tested every month at least, and if found to be leaking, should have been discarded and replaced. They don’t learn until it’s too late.”

The source added that fire hydrants should also be tested around the city on a regular basis.

“There are no standards, and it appears that there are a lot of people doing nothing. Maritzburg used to have a top fire service. They should charge someone with negligence. You can’t say ‘I know nothing’, or pass the blame to someone else.”

The firefighting specialist said that the excuse that no funds were available was not valid.

“There is money but it’s not being prioritised properly. Having firefighting equipment, which is in working order, is simply not negotiable. It must be ready for a quick and effective response at any time.”

The source said that, with the fire season upon us, the fire department would be running to grass fires all over, leaving the city even more potentially vulnerable to big emergencies.

He said the Chamber of Business should call for answers into the ineffectiveness of the fire service as the city had industries and businesses which were now placed at a huge risk, until the fire department was returned to functionality.

“I would even suggest a rates boycott by business until a report back was given.”

Andrew Layman, CEO of the Pieterma­ritzburg Chamber of Business, declined to comment on the situation yesterday when approached by The Witness.

Billy Paton, Fire Chief for Msunduzi, also declined to comment.

Roy Bridgmohan, acting municipal manager, on Friday blamed “insufficient water pressure” as one of the factors which contributed to the fiasco.

Zwe Hulane, deputy municipal manager for Community Services, said on Friday the municipality was unaware of fire engines which “refused to start” as they arrived and left the scene.

He said Msunduzi is in the process of procuring two new fire engines which should be delivered by the end of the month.

“The municipality will also be considering the replacement of other major frontline fire engines, including the Hydraulic Platform Pump in the new financial year,” said Hulane.


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