Memorial service

Grief-stricken fire fighters demand R4,000 danger pay

By Bheki C. Simelane 12 September 2018
Caption
A relative is helped to walk past kneeling firemen by EMS first responders, during a memorial and wreath laying ceremony for the three fire fighters who died fighting a fire in the building above the memorial, in Johannesburg, South Africa, 12 September 2018. The three firefighters are Simphiwe Maropane, Khathutshela Muedi and Mduduzi Ndlovu. EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK

Fire fighters in Johannesburg have demanded a danger allowance of not less than R4,000 in the wake of the Bank of Lisbon fire which claimed the lives of three of their colleagues.

Fire fighters demanded danger pay during a memorial service and wreath- laying ceremony to honour their three fallen colleagues, Simphiwe Moropane, 28, Mduduzi Ndlovu, 40, and Khathutshelo Muedi, 37.

The three died while trying to douse a blaze that erupted on the 23rd floor of the Bank of Lisbon building. Two fire fighters died inside the building after running out of oxygen while the other one fell to his death.

The event triggered lots of pain for the families and colleagues of the deceased who wept uncontrollably at the memorial for the fallen heroes. Family members stumbled to get on their feet when required to do so. Grief was ever-present, the trigger which has raised serious concerns around the safety of fire fighters.

Following the deadly blaze, the City of Johannesburg admitted that it did not have enough capacity to effectively deal with raging fires. City officials admitted on Thursday last week at the scene of the accident that it had only 14 fire engines.

Present at the memorial were families of the deceased, City of Johannesburg officials, including Mayor Herman Mashaba, leaders of the Johannesburg Emergency Service and members of the Johannesburg Metro Police. A notable absence was Gauteng Premier David Makhura.

The danger allowance is very important because it will ease our financial burden,” a female fire fighter from Johannesburg Fire said.

“They don’t want to pay us danger allowance. Our work is very dangerous but they refuse to pay danger allowance. We want R4,000 upwards danger allowance. They will probably give us a tough time despite the glaring evidence that a danger allowance would go a long towards easing the burden on all fire fighters,” Zolani Mkanyiswa, an employee of Emfuleni Fire said.

Mkanyisa criticised leaders for what he called apparent failure to appreciate the danger and risks associated with their work. He said the issue of the danger allowance should have been addressed a long time ago, but said a lack of political will and commitment to the course were the main problems.

“We are not getting any danger allowance. Our work is risky. We not getting even a cent. We (are) just working here. They don’t care about what we do. These guys are playing with our lives. We demand the danger allowance now,” a Demusa affiliated employee who asked not to be named said.

Angry employees and Demusa-affiliated fire fighters said the situation was so dire on the day of the accident that a person who rescued the two fire fighters who were trapped inside the burning building had to cut short his off-day and catch a taxi to the scene of the blaze. “All the while officials were standing around on the ground. This is a sheer lack of compassion and appreciation of the work that we do,” One member Demusa member said.

Fire fighters also told Daily Maverick that officials should have put a plan in place first to be on stand-by with extra oxygen, especially because they are aware that the oxygen only lasts 30 minutes.

“The R4,000 plus danger allowance that we want is nothing compared to the hardship we endure out there,” said another fire fighter and Demusa affiliate. DM

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