Firemen describe horrific ordeal at Old Prison

With a single thought of getting himself and his colleagues out of the burning building where a concrete slab had collapsed on them, a Pietermaritzburg fire-fighter is thankful to be alive today.

“All I could think about was getting out of there. I could just see that if we didn’t get out we were going to die in there. Despite my injuries, I managed to pull my partner out,” said the fireman who is recovering from the ordeal.

“I learnt a lot about life yesterday. It’s only through God’s grace and my colleague’s help that I am alive today,”said the fireman.

His colleague, who was behind him during the ordeal in the Old Prison said they had entered the building and were attempting to get to the first floor when they were struck by pieces of plaster that was falling off the wall.

“I saw the thick chunks of plaster fall off the wall – I screamed out to my colleagues in front of me to be careful but it was too late as the concrete slab came down on them. It was horrific – we had this fire and smoke all around us and they were getting crushed under the slab. Somehow we managed to grab them and we literally pulled these guys, who by now had passed out, by their ears,”said the fireman.

Describing yesterday’s fire as traumatic, the fireman said they tried their best but battled under the circumstances of not having a constant, steady supply of water.

Three firemen were rushed to hospital following injuries sustained at the scene. Two have been discharged while the third fireman is still in a serious condition in hospital.

Project Gateway, that uses the Old Prison building for community upliftment projects, held a press conference on Friday morning.

CEO Jabu Mnculwane said they believed the fire was caused by lighting from a storm that struck the area on Thursday afternoon but awaited forensic reports.

He appealed to the community assist rebuild the centre once damages have been assessed.

Bonwa Nyawusa, director of Museum Services, said they would together with Project Gateway to rehabilitate the building as it is part of their portfolio.

Gandhi Committee deputy chairman David Gengan said substantial damage was sustained to the Gandhi museum at the Old Prison and the time capsule that was installed there to commemorate the 150 year arrival of the indentured Indian labourers was trapped beneath collapsed walls.

Municipal spokesman Thobeka Mafumbatha said the fire department had responded swiftly to the call out.

“The fire men worked tirelessly to put out the fire. Three of them were injured when they acted selflessly in the line of duty. The water situation was contained at all times,”said Mafumbatha.

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