Business owner believes Sebenza fire damage could have been less

John Penrose, director of African Packaging and Water Solutions, stands near a portion of his business which was destroyed during the May 13 Sebenza fire. In the background, a white mound of melted polyethylene sits amongst the rubble.

Local businessman John Penrose voiced his disappointment in firefighters who attended the recent fire in Sebenza.

Also read: #SebenzaFire – Emergency services come to the rescue as Sebenza fire blazes through the night

The fire, which started on May 13, damaged five businesses and left destruction in its wake.

A disappointed John Penrose, director of African Packaging and Water Solutions, stands near a portion of his business which was destroyed during the May 13 Sebenza fire.

Penrose, a director of African Packaging and Water Solutions, said the damage inflicted on his business and others could have been reduced or prevented.

“There were a lot of red lights and a lot of people doing nothing,” said Penrose.

Also read: UPDATE: #SebenzaFire emergency services are still on scene

When Penrose was informed of the fire at about 9.30pm he rushed to his business to see if it had been damaged.

He said on his arrival firefighters were waiting outside the Sebenza office park in front of the locked gate while the fire was burning.

“Community members were urging the firefighters to break down the gate and attend to the fire,” said Penrose.

“They told community members that they did not break gates down.”

Also read: #FireSafety: Ekurhuleni Emergency Services give safety tips to keep you safe this winter

To allow firefighters access to the property, community members lifted the gate off its rails and moved it away.

Further down Aitken Road, near Cecil Awret Road, Penrose saw two parked fire engines.

Amanda Colling shows the NEWS on May 15 where she was standing when she was sprayed by one of the firefighters.

“I was told that the one did not have any water in its tanks and that the crew of the second one was looking for the fire hydrant. Once they were on the property, it took 20 minutes for them to set up their equipment. At 10pm some of them were still looking for a hydrant. Firefighters only started to extinguish the blaze at 11pm,” said Penrose.

He said the fire continued to spread through the businesses.

“After a while, the firefighters were only using one hose to extinguish the fire. When I asked why a fireman said that they did not have enough pressure for more hoses.”

“In addition to only using one hose, a portion of the hose was damaged and leaking water.”

A lone firefighter stands amongst smoke and ashes of May 13’s fire.

He said as the fire spread towards his business, he informed firefighters that there was polyethylene, a flammable plastic, inside his business premises.

“I was told by the fireman that they were going to let the building burn. I couldn’t understand why,” said Penrose.

At 12.30am Penrose decided to leave the office park while the fire was still burning.

The following day Penrose returned to his offices to view the damage.

A disappointed John Penrose, director of African Packaging and Water Solutions, stands near a portion of his business which was destroyed during the May 13 Sebenza fire.

On his arrival, he saw firefighters removing pressed wood from a damaged factory.

“They placed it near my nylon carport where they were extinguishing them. I couldn’t understand why they were bringing smouldering wood and placing it near a flammable structure.”

Penrose said his staff member, Amanda Colling, was videoing the firefighters extinguishing the boards.

A forklift removing boards of wood from Board Timber Traders on May 15.

“She was sprayed with water. I believe the firefighters purposefully sprayed her.

“I was just standing near the carport taking the video when the firefighter sprayed me. I didn’t expect it. I was soaked,” said Colling.

DEMS comments

The City of Ekurhuleni’s Disaster and Emergency Management Services (DEMS) responded to concerns raised by community members following the May 13 fire.

Although the cause of the fire is unknown, an investigation into the matter has started.
William Ntladi, the DEMS spokesperson, said the first call about the fire was received at 9.27pm.

Some of the burnt items left in the wake of the of the Sebenza fire which occurred on May 13.

“DEMS responded as per operational norms and standards. Within 10 minutes, the first fire engine arrived at the scene.
“The crew of the first vehicle started active defensive firefighting. A total of seven major pumps (fire engines) from various fire stations were on the scene,” said Ntladi.
“Two additional water tankers also assisted.”

The damaged hose used by the fire fighters near VCP Industries on May 15.

Vehicles and crews from Edenvale, Boksburg, Tembisa and Kempton Park attended to the emergency.
According to Ntladi, all of the fire engines had water in their tanks when they arrived.
Ntladi said each major pump can hold up to 3 500 litres of water.
The water is discharged through a hose, 64 millimetres in diameter at a pressure of 10 bars.
“If two discharge hoses are connected to the pump, the tank will be empty in less than three minutes. This could lead to the impression that fire engines always arrive at a scene with empty tanks, which is not the case,” said Ntladi.

A burnt out forklift sitting in the ruble.

He said firefighters needed to find a fire hydrant to ensure they had an uninterrupted supply of water.
“Firefighters made use of the municipal fire hydrant near Cecil Awret Road. Some firefighters attended to the blaze while others regulated and monitored water flow through the discharge hoses. Relay pumping of water was well initiated to maintain sustained water supply from the source with required operational pressure from each pump.”

Ntladi said each fire engine should carry at least 10 30m-long hoses 64mm in diameter.
The hoses are either made of canvas material or double jackets dura-lines. “Some of the hoses were damaged as a result of the environments they are exposed to. While extinguishing fires, hoses are subjected to extreme heat and dragged over hot spots,” said Ntladi.
“There is a high possibility that hoses do become damaged while we are fighting fires.”

A colourful mess in front of one of the businesses which were damaged during May 13’s fire in Sebenza.

Ntladi said during major structural fires like the one in Sebenza, defensive protection of the unburnt structures takes priority.
“It is not the flames that spread the fire but the intense heat,” he said.
“After the buildings have been protected, firefighters can proceed to extinguish burning structures.”

A firefighter walks through the smoke and ruble as he tends to smoldering ashes on May 14.

The fire was extinguished from four key points on May 13.
“Fire engines were placed strategically to protect exposed buildings and extinguish already burning structures,” said Ntladi.
“We urge community members not to interfere with operational procedures at an emergency scene. Attending to an emergency is the responsibility of seasoned firefighters,” said Ntladi.
“People who were on scene drove over already pressurised hoses,” said Ntladi.

The interior of Board Timber Traders on May 14 as fires continue to burn in the back of the factory.

He appealed to the community to report fires as soon as they can.
“DEMS acknowledges that community members reported the incident. However, driving from where they saw the smoke to the scene and then only reporting the fire took precious time which could have reduced damage.” To report an emergency phone 011 458 0911, 10177 or 112 from a cellphone.

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  AUTHOR
Stephan Lehman

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