Families of deceased firefighters looking for closure

Families of deceased firefighters looking for closureGauteng health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku commemorates the one-year anniversary of the Bank of Lisbon fire. (Photo Credit: Health-e/ Marcia Zali)

Loved ones are finding it hard to move on a year after three firefighters died while trying to distinguish a fire at the Bank of Lisbon building, which housed the Gauteng health department.

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Speaking on behalf of the families who lost their loved ones in the tragedy, Robert Moropane says that he won’t be able to find closure until he knows what led to the death of his son, firefighter Simphiwe Moropane.

The struggle continues 

“Three hundred and sixty-five days later, the mother [my daughter-in-law] of Simphiwe’s kids is still struggling for fend for those children. We are helping her here and there but it’s not enough because their father loved them and if he was still here, they wouldn’t be in the situation they are in.”

Moropane says it took him a while to receive the counselling promised to him, and other families. 

“They gave us numbers of people from Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to phone so that they can arrange counselling for us. I made about four to five phone calls [but] they gave me excuses so I stopped because I was the one making the effort and I didn’t know where else to turn to help the children.”

Despite finally receiving counselling through the provincial department of health, Moropane says not knowing what led to his son’s death makes it difficult for him to heal.

“Talking to the psychologist, I found that it isn’t easy to heal if there is something left behind, [in this case] the report of what happened. I called the EMS at least a hundred times just to find out what happened to my son so that we as a family can get our conclusion and move on.”

Becoming better 

Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Bandile Masuku says the commemoration of the fire is a way of signifying the change that the department wants to make.

“In terms of our priorities, we want to engage on issues that relate to Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and one of the commitments we have made is that by the end of this financial year, all of our facilities across the province will be OHS compliant. We are [also] going to renovate and refurbish them.”

He also acknowledges the work that the firefighters were doing when they met their untimely deaths.

“We hope that this plaque will be put in one of our boardrooms where it will constantly remind everyone about the commitments that we have made to the public about our dedication and the sacrifice that civil servants put into their work.”

Not in vain 

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa deputy provincial chairperson, Thabang Sonyathi says that the death of the firefighters should not be in vain.

“What happened here last year must be a stepping stone [upon] our reflection, how do we do things better, how do we protect workers and how do we protect the people that we serve in general? May it be that our colleagues who have fallen here, that their death is not in vain but encourages us to thrive towards OHS excellence.”

He also calls on the investigation of the cause of the fire to be concluded.

“We are still waiting very eagerly, as labour, for the report… so that it gives us closure.”

The unions are also calling on employers to ensure that the families of the deceased firefighters are taken care of, particularly their children’s education costs. 

The other firefighters who died in the tragedy are Mduduzi Ndlovu and Khathutshelo Muedi. Health-e News

An edited version of this story was published by Health24.