Firefighters wait for the wreath-laying ceremony to begin at the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg on September 12 2018.
Image: Naledi Shange/TimesLIVE
Firefighters battled to keep their composure on Wednesday as they stood in line outside the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg‚ where three of their colleagues lost their lives last week.

One of the firefighters clutched a gold helmet as tears streamed down her face amid gospel tunes being played by a brass band.

With the tears still trickling down her face‚ she stood at attention‚ on command‚ at a wreath-laying ceremony in the city.

Some firefighters knelt among the wreaths and flowers that had been placed outside the building. Others held onto their colleagues.

Simphiwe Moropana‚ Mduduzi Ndlovu and Khathushelo Muedi were killed when they reported to the building after a fire broke out on the 23rd floor. For the first time on Wednesday‚ their families visited the deadly scene.

Others cried and fell to the ground as their colleagues placed flowers before the three crosses placed outside the building. Soft sobs could be heard as they stood outside the building. Many were clad in black or wore blankets draped around their shoulders.

Union leader Zwelinzima Vavi was among the scores of people who came to pay their respects. Dressed in black‚ Vavi embraced an emotional firefighter as the crowds dispersed.

Donning his yellow firefighting suit and helmet‚ the man cried on Vavi's shoulder as he rubbed his back.

Following the wreath-laying ceremony‚ the crowds moved to the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg. In the arena‚ pictures of the three men were placed at the front of the stage‚ along with white candles.

"We demand justice for firefighters. No more lives lost. Give us emergency services. We need to protect our people‚" read a large banner placed on the side of the stage.

Some of the firefighters wore t-shirts bearing the faces of their late colleagues.

The mood in the arena had changed to a celebratory one as the firefighters sang in the stands. They banged their feet on the grand stands as their voices echoed through the arena.

The families of the deceased men took their seats in the front of the arena‚ waiting for the service to begin.