One year on: Firefighters who died in Bank of Lisbon fire are remembered

2019-09-05 16:14
A fire at the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg. (Canny Maphanga, News24)

A fire at the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg. (Canny Maphanga, News24)

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It was on Wednesday, September 5, 2018 at around 10:30 when Albertina Sisulu and Sauer streets in Central Johannesburg were gridlocked by a horrific blaze that engulfed the Bank of Lisbon building. 

The building housed the Gauteng departments of health, human settlements, and cooperative governance and traditional affairs at the time.

On Thursday, a year later, families, friends and colleagues from various departments gathered outside the building to honour and remember the three firefighters who died in the incident.

One of the firefighters fell to his death from the 23rd floor. 

Simphiwe Moropane, Mduduzi Ndlovu and Khathutshelo Muedi were the firefighters who died on duty on that day.

They were among 48 people, including four police officers, who were on the scene to extinguish the blaze.

"The purpose of today is to commemorate and remember the three emergency workers who perished on duty. 

"This is part of the process of bringing closure to all of us who witnessed this unfortunate day and all of us who also ended up in hospital and lost valuable items in this building," the head of the health department, Professor Mac Lukhele, said.

Lukhele said the day was also about honouring emergency services officials who continued putting their lives in danger when putting out fires in the City - the same way they did during that fire, even though they saw their colleagues die.

He vowed that a similar incident would never happen again.

The families arrived at the memorial, where there was a parade of colleagues of the deceased and a hymn was sung.

Families laid wreaths outside the buildings and a stone bearing the names of the fighters was unveiled. The stone will be placed at the new health department building. 

Every time he hears a siren, the three fighters who perished come to mind, Moropane's father, Robert, who spoke on behalf of the three families, said.

He said although their death was tragic, they were proud of the courage and bravery the men showed while serving the people of South Africa.

As Morapane's father spoke, his wife, Mahlatse, and mother, Lucy, kept their eyes on the building where construction is under way. Morapane's two young daughters, aged 4 and 1, were sitting on their laps.

"They had a tough job but they were determined to doing their job to the best of their ability. Each time I see a fire engine I think of them and say if they were alive, they would be in those trucks' because they loved their jobs," he said.  

Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku said the tragedy of that day exposed a need for the department to investigate the state of buildings in the city. 

wreath laying

Families of three firefighters who lost their lives in a fire at the Bank of Lisbon building in 2018 lay wreaths outside the building. (Sesona Ngqakamba, News24)

He said the department remained committed to ensuring adherence to operational health and safety standards in all facilities.

"The loss of firefighters we are honouring today came at the time where government was grappling with infrastructure, overwhelmed by the demographic challenges that come with rapid urbanisation," he said. 

Masuku said the government had been made aware that Day Zero was possible in Gauteng, which meant water resources were likely to be depleted.

He said the fight to keep urban areas safe depended on brave emergency services officials, adding that the death of one worker was one too many. 

"We also recognise the nature of work we do, as the department, takes its toll on our staff members. Working in health is a 24-hour job that requires mental health strength and support. At the core of our priorities, as the department, is the improvement of staff morale, which includes providing mental health support," Masuku said. 

Masuku conveyed his appreciation to the firefighters.

Read more on:    bandile masuku  |  johannesburg  |  fire  |  health
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