Hyde Park house destroyed while firefighters search for hydrant

A fire in Hyde Park in a prestigious Johannesburg suburb that gutted a house has shed light on faulty fire hydrants and the shortage of fire engines in the city.

The house was seriously damaged last week as the city fire service struggled to find a nearby hydrant with enough pressure to fill a fire engine tank.

The Sandton Fire Department was called in to help, but did not have a fire engine. A member of staff in Alexander responded to the emergency.

Johannesburg Emergency Management Service (EMS) spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said six fire engines were operating in the city.

“A fire engine had to be activated in Alexandra,” he said.

According to him, there are 30 fire stations in the city. “For these 30 fire stations, we should have at least one fire engine at each station, but we have six fire engines and two water tanks that cover the entire city.

“We have to divide the city into six districts, one fire engine in each district.”

He said fire engines normally bring water to the scene, but they need to be connected to the fire hydrant to provide additional water.

“What happened in this case was that there was one hydrant, there was not enough pressure to fill the tank.”

He said a fire engine had to drive up to a suitable hydrant to refill it.

“Here’s what’s happening. Most of the hydrants are not in good condition – either they are damaged or there is not enough pressure in them”.

A few days later, a house burned down in Northcliffe, north of Johannesburg.

Fire Ops, the private fire service, which was the first to arrive on the scene after hearing about the fire on social media on Tuesday night, reached the house on Acacia Road in 12 minutes.

Fire chief Wynand Engelbrecht said when the fire brigade arrived on the scene, the house was “very late” to catch fire.

“We took 12 minutes. By then the house was well lit and there was nothing left to save. We only protected neighbours’ houses to prevent the fire from spreading,” he said.

“I was told that people had lived in the house for only four days. They had moved in four days before.”

Engelbrecht said no passengers were injured, but two dogs were killed.

He said the Johannesburg Fire Department arrived at the house about 20 minutes after the Fire Ops team.

Mulaudzi said the city would soon have additional fire engines, which would reduce response times.

Johannesburg spokesperson Ntazisi Modingoane said earlier this month that the city had acquired a new fleet of 20 specialised vehicles to fight fires.

Martin Williams, councillor for Ward 90, which includes Hyde Park, said this week that a shortage of fire engines was a problem.

“On May 20 there was a fire in Delta Park which seemed to threaten houses in Hamilton Avenue and Marlborough in Craighall Park. A fire engine dispatched from Alexandra then arrived on the scene in about 25 minutes, which is not bad by Joburg standards. Fortunately, the fire was able to be contained,” Williams said.

He said resident associations and security companies were aware of the shortage of fire engines. “They tend to go to private companies in emergencies.”

In response to a question Williams asked the city in March, he was told EMS had seven fire engines strategically placed at stations to ensure there would be a vehicle with a response time of 15 to 20 minutes for each fire.