“I have not received counselling‚ but I have had to go back to work because I am working for my family. If you don’t go to work‚ you won’t get paid.”
Zwane gave reporters a glimpse of how quickly things changed for the three firefighters that day.
He provided this timeline of what happened:
Firefighters received a call from the control room to the fire engine‚ informing them of a fire a few streets away from where they were. Zwane said it did not take even three minutes to get into their gear and rush there.
They arrived on the scene. He and his crew members were the first respondents.
A second crew arrived from another station. Zwane informed them that five of his members were already inside. Five firefighters from Fairview went in after them‚ while one stayed behind with Zwane.
After the second crew went in‚ people were evacuated from the building.
The first sign of trouble came. “I got a call from the crew‚” said Zwane. “He said‚ ‘Zwane we are stuck now. We don’t have water. The building is well alight and we don’t know where to go.’ I told him there were just the two of us here. I advised him to try to get on the roof.”
He received a second frantic call. “Another call came in from crew member Mahlathi. He said they were stuck there and did not have water. He said‚ ‘Muedi has collapsed’. I didn’t know what to do at that time because‚ as he told me that‚ another guy had fallen from the 23rd floor‚” said Zwane.
Zwane said after this‚ he received numerous phone calls from those inside‚ saying they were stuck.
“I was also confused. I didn’t know what to say now because one guy is down. I could not tell them that I had one man down here. It was going to be a problem. I had to tell them to wait‚ that we were coming and that they must find a place to hide and‚ in a few minutes‚ we would be coming‚” said Zwane.
Eventually more crew members were called in.
Zwane said it took the additional crew‚ including station commanders‚ about 30 minutes to arrive. He said the station commanders stood outside the building saying they were strategising‚ but none of them assisted.
“They are (more) highly qualified than us‚ so we expected them… to rescue their guys‚ but no one went in until our fellow firefighters went in to rescue our colleagues.”
Zwane told reporters he had little hope his colleague‚ Muedi‚ would be found alive because the other crew members had told him he was out of oxygen. He said while watching the burning building he thought it would only be “by God’s grace” that Muedi would make it out alive.
Zwane said he had tried over and over to call Ndlovu while he was in the building‚ but his calls were not answered.