Question NW3011 to the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

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30 November 2018 - NW3011

Profile picture: Waters, Mr M

Waters, Mr M to ask the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

Whether he will call for an enquiry into the alleged incompetence of the Edenvale Fire Department while responding to a fire at a factory, including but not limited to (a) why firefighters were waiting outside the premises while the fire raged and spread to other factories, (b) the reasons why one fire engine did not have any water in its tank while it took excessive time for the crew of the second fire engine to find a fire hydrant, (c) why it took the fire crew 20 minutes to set up their equipment once they arrived on the premises and (d) why only one hose was used to extinguish the fire; if not, why not; (1.2) Whether any norms and standards were transgressed while responding to the fire; if so, which norms and standards? NW3325E

Reply:

The information requested by the Honourable Member was obtained from the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) in the City of Ekurhuleni (CoE). The response to the question and its sub-components by the CoE is outlined below.

a) Why firefighters were waiting outside the premises while the fire raged and spread to other factories?

On arrival, Firefighters conducted a scene size-up and realised that the gates were locked hence forcible entry tools had to be gathered. Prior to utilizing forcible entry tools, Firefighters further realised that the perimeter fence was electrified and the current was still alive. In terms of section 8 of the Fire Brigade Services Act, 1987 (Act No 99 of 1987) (FBSA), a member of a service of a controlling authority, including a Chief Fire Officer, may, whenever he/she regards it necessary or expedient to perform his/her functions (i) Close any road or street and (ii) Enter or break and enter any premises and (iii) Damage, destroy or pull down any property. Thus, while Firefighters are empowered to forcible enter any premises, in this case, they had to engage the Security Officer / Guard to alert an Electrician to come and isolate the power supply. It is important to note that in many incidents of this nature globally, many lives of Firefighters are lost due to inadequate consideration of safety factors such as dealing with electrified perimeter fences. Firefighters are trained to save lives but this should be done in a manner that does not comprise their safety. Thus, Firefighters had to wait for the safety signal from an Electrician before firefighting operations could start safely.

b) The reasons why one fire engine did not have any water in its tank while it took excessive time for the crew of the second fire engine to find a fire hydrant?

It is important to note that upon arrival, a defensive attack mode was initiated immediately with the water from the engine tank. No industrial or rescue fire engines respond to the scene without water. The standard operational procedure is that, for each shift change, the on-coming shift checks the resources for operational readiness. Fire engines and water tanks are regularly topped up to their maximum. Fire engines differ in sizes as per the manufacturing specifications. Typically, they range from about 800 litres capacity to about 15 000 litres depending on the individual size. The rescue tenders and major industrial fire pumpers that were mainly used on the day, ranges from 2 200 litres and 3 500 litres respectively and those are the primary responding pumps to the scene. The scene was complemented by backup pumps/fire engines/ water tankers from the surrounding stations. As per local operational preparedness and standards, Bedfordview and Primrose fire stations, operating in the same district as Edenvale fire station, both arrived on the scene with major pumpers to re-enforce firefighters from numbers and equipment`s perspective.

Water tank capacity of the major industrial pumper as per American National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, which are globally accepted standards utilised by Fire Services, dictate that it (industrial pumper) (Pictures 1 and 3) should carry about 3500 litres of water in transit. Discharge pressure of about eight to ten (8-10) bars through a single orifice of 64 mm diameter means that the tanks will be empty in less than five minutes and if two discharge hoses are connected, it means that the tank will be empty in less than three minutes. This is the reason why members of the public think that fire engines always arrive on scene with empty tanks, which is not the case. The municipality, for illustrative purposes, has attached pictures of the industrial fire pumper and the hydraulic platform that were utilised in this incident as outlined below:

Picture 1: Industrial Fire Pumper