Family members and friends at the memorial service held at Ellis Park on September 12 2018 to pay their respect to the firefighters who died while fighting the blaze in the Bank of Lisbon building in the Johannesburg CBD.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

The firefighters who died trapped inside the burning Bank of Lisbon building in the Johannesburg CBD suffered severe burns to their hands “as they were using them to defend themselves against the flames”.

And the man who fell from the 23rd floor of the building was so severely injured that his body was almost unrecognisable.

This was revealed by a colleague of the three firefighters at their memorial service on Wednesday‚ who painted a grim picture of the trio’s last moments alive.

Simphiwe Moropana‚ Mduduzi Ndlovu and Khathutshelo 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.

Moropana‚ from the Fairview Fire Station‚ was identified as the man who fell from the building.

Taking the podium‚ Muzikayise Zwane told mourners that the man who fell from the 23rd floor was horrifically injured by the impact of the fall.

He also described the burn wounds of his colleagues.

“Their hands burnt because they were using them to defend themselves against the flames. There was nothing else they could defend themselves with because there was no water‚” he said.

Zwane said he had received a call from one of the men‚ and was told that they were trapped in the building and could not find their way out amid the flames.

Zwane had stayed outside the building‚ waiting for their instruction to turn on the water - but when the group of firefighters got into the burning building‚ they found that there was no water.

"They said the flames were strong and there was no water. He [the firefighter on the phone] asked that I send a rescue team to help them because others were already hurt‚" Zwane said.

He said the man on the phone‚ who he did not name‚ had said that he could not carry his injured colleagues because his own hands had been burnt by the blaze.

Zwane had instructed them to try to get to the roof.

While the one firefighter had died from the fall‚ the other two died from the flames and from smoke inhalation.

Zwane said he was heading back to the truck when he suddenly heard a thud. It was his colleague who had fallen from the building.

He rushed there and found him already dead‚ saying the body was in such a bad state‚ he could not recognise who he was.

"We had to search his pockets and find his work card to be able to recognise him‚" Zwane added.

He and other firefighters from the Fairview police station did not hold back‚ squarely blaming the deaths of their colleagues on badly maintained government buildings.

"We never expected to find a government building that did not comply‚" he said‚ adding that Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba had been complaining of non-compliant buildings.

The building had housed several government departments and had been reported to only have 21% compliance. Buildings are‚ ordinarily‚ expected to be more than 80% compliant.

Workers have since been moved to another building.