“Workers go to work to sell their labour power, not to sell their lives.”
So said the national leadership of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) after firefighters had, for more than 12 hours, battled a blaze that engulfed a section of Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital for two days.
The fire broke out in a special dispensary storage room at about 11am on Friday.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire. No casualties have been reported.
A decision has been made to shut down the hospital for the next seven days and about 400 patients, including 13 Covid-19 cases, have been transferred to the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, the Tshwane District Hospital and other hospitals in the province.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura yesterday said the decision to shut down the hospital was made as a precautionary measure: “The best thing to do is go to the nearest other hospital. In the next seven days, we advise people not to come here to collect medication or to see doctors. The CEO of the hospital and her team will communicate how we’ll [be addressing this issue]. Patients who were scheduled for emergency operations will also be communicated with.”
When City Press visited the hospital at about 11am yesterday, the fire appeared to have been extinguished and a number of patients were entering the facility.
Others, who were exiting, indicated that they had been attended to.
By Saturday morning, only 270 patients still needed to be transferred.
Wave after wave of ambulances could also be seen entering and exiting the hospital grounds.
The incident occurred after a similar fire broke out in February at Carletonville Hospital on the West Rand.
In that blaze, an estimated R23 million worth of personal protective equipment and other medical items were destroyed.
Suspicions of foul play in the Charlotte Maxeke fire were aroused by the fact that the hospital suspended workers recently.
Makhura said his concerns about this had been allayed, but an investigation would still be undertaken to establish the cause of the blaze.
Five officials and two security guards were on the site when the fire broke out, and would be interviewed as part of the investigation.
BATTLE FACED BY FIREFIGHTERS
Authorities also confirmed yesterday that there was no fire hydrant at Charlotte Maxeke, a situation that had posed challenges for the firefighters, especially because the hospital storeroom had been heavily stocked.
Gauteng Infrastructure Development and Property Management MEC Tasneem Motara confirmed that firefighters had had to use a hydrant located outside the hospital.
“At the time when the hospital was built, a fire hydrant on site wasn’t [considered] necessary … [The one that was used by the firefighters] isn’t 5km away,” she said.
In a statement released yesterday, Nehawu said the incident was a setback.
“As we head towards the third wave of Covid-19 infections, hospitals must be fully stocked with personal protective equipment in order to avoid the mass infections of front line workers, which [is what] occurred during the first wave. The fact that the fire raged for many hours proves that occupational safety measures haven’t been adequately adhered to at the hospital,” said the union.
“Investigations must reveal whether the hospital has a functional fire sprinkler system and other measures to deal with such an ordeal.”
The Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA said it hoped it was mere coincidence that fires had broken out in the storerooms of both the Carletonville and Charlotte Maxeke hospitals and neither incidence was as a result of arson.
“We hope the outcomes and recommendations of the investigation are implemented without any delay,” said the organisation.