UPDATE: Three firefighters confirmed dead in Joburg govt building fire

The burning Gauteng Health and Human Settlement building. Image:  Neil McCartney

The burning Gauteng Health and Human Settlement building. Image: Neil McCartney

Firefighters, police, and paramedics are currently on the scene while hundreds of onlookers have gathered opposite the building.

Three firefighters have been confirmed dead and 13 staff members have been taken to hospital for smoke inhalation after a fire broke out at a 23-story building which houses two government departments in Joburg’s CBD.

Hundreds of people gathered across the road next to ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, which is close to the smoking building housing the department of human settlements as well as the Bank of Lisbon.

Witnesses said the fire broke out on the top floor at about 10.30am.

Earlier, onlookers were horrified when one firefighter fell to his death from the top floors of the burning building.

Gauteng MEC for Infrastructure Development Jacob Mamabolo confirmed three firemen died in the rescue attempt.

“There are three members of the city of Joburg fire department, the fire fighters have lost their lives, and we would like to convey sincere condolences to their families.”

He confirmed the building did not comply with safely regulations, adding that a recent report stated that only 21% of the building complied with regulations.

Police and emergency services are still on scene.

The City of Johannesburg MMC for safety Michael Sun said the DA in Gauteng called for a full investigation into the events that led to the fire at the 23-storey building.

Commenting on the tragedy, Jack Bloom, the DA spokesperson on health on Gauteng, said he had been asking the provincial government about the safety of the workers in the building. However, he said his pleas had fallen on deaf ears.

Bloom said over the phone: “It is very distressing that something like this is happening. One of the things that workers have been complaining about for a long time is that they are unsafe. There are allegations that the building is condemned and that it contravenes health and safety regulations.

“I have put out questions to the department of infrastructure development because it owns the building, but I am yet to receive a response. Their answer is overdue by a month now. There needs to be a full investigation into the cause of the fire and why employees have been complaining. The department should have responded earlier.”

Dr Sipho Sinabe, acting deputy director-general for HR at Gauteng Health, said the building had been evacuated.

“We had an outbreak on the 23rd floor of the building and as soon as we became aware of it we evacuated the staff in that office and the entire floor, as well as the rest of the floors below. The emergency medical services and the fire department were called and they are now extinguishing the fire.

“We don’t know what was the cause of the fire. A few of our staff had smoke inhalation and have been sent to a hospital. As far as we know there are three at the moment.”

A police helicopter hovered above the burning building. There was a collective sigh of relief from onlookers when the helicopter began moving away with a person hanging onto a rope.

The fire was contained.

At around 11am, a loud bang was heard and a firefighter fell from one of the high floors and crashed on the concrete pavement right in front of the main building entrance. Paramedics surrounded the firefighter and after a short period attempted to cover his body with a silver foil but it kept being blown away by the wind.

This is a developing story.

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