Tuesday, June 25, 2019

SABC fire prompts evacuation of Radio Park building after cafeteria blaze, 15 people taken to hospital after smoke inhalation.

A fire at the SABC that broke out on Tuesday morning prompted the evacuation of its Radio Park building with 9 (now 15) people who were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation - the second mass evacuation at the cash-strapped South African public broadcaster within two months.

The fire broke out inside the cafeteria located close to the studios of the 5FM and Metro FM radio stations, prompting the evacuation of the building.

The fire - apparently electrical - was extinguished, although the cause has not yet been determined or confirmed.

Similar to last month, the evacuation prompted immediate changes to the production of the SABC's radio stations and their programming, including the Afrikaans station RSG that switched to producing from its Cape Town studio in Sea Point.

There's not been a statement from the SABC yet.

The same Radio Park building was evacuated last month during a diesel spill that saw thousands of litres of diesel flood the building and down the elevator shaft when a power outage caused the building to switch to its back-up power generator located on the 15th floor. "A failure of the equipment led to the diesel tank overflowing," the SABC said last month.

SABC executives, as well as former and current SABC board members have been warning for months that the SABC has stopped and failed to do maintenance due to the broadcaster's precarious financial position with the SABC hovering on the edge of collapse and warning that the SABC's "Day Zero" and a black-on-air situation could happen any day.

In November 2018, the former SABC board member Mathatha Tsedu told and warned parliament and the minister of communications that the SABC is turning into a potential death trap.

"We haven't maintained our buildings for a very long time. Last week a huge chunk fell from the reception of the Radio Park building. The people responsible for the maintenance of our buildings have been warning that there are cracks there - something is going to happen. But we don't have the money. We're only dealing with what is broadcast critical," he said.

"If there is a crack up there and it doesn't stop us from going on air, we will not fix it until that rock falls down. And one day, it is going to fall on someone."

On Tuesday afternoon, Jonathan Thekiso, the SABC's head of human resources, came to address SABC staffers who were milling about outside the entrance of the Radio Park building, to tell them that the building has been declared to be safe again and that they should go back to work.

ER24 staffers, along with other private services, rushed to the SABC where they alongside the City of Johannesburg Fire Services that was already on the scene, started helping patients. SABC staffers were treated on site in a triage area, and were also moved to various hospitals for treatment.

UPDATE Tuesday 25 June 2019  15:05 - The SABC in a statement on Tuesday afternoon says that its "Radio Park building has been declared safe for occupation, following the fire which broke out earlier today". 

"An initial assessment indicates that the fire started in a secluded area of the canteen, where an electrical distribution board is located. The fire was contained almost immediately," says Vuto Mthembu, SABC spokesperson. 

"All employees occupying the building were successfully evacuated; however a few employees have since been taken to hospital for observation as a result of inhalation of smoke. The canteen is currently closed for further assessment and operations continue as normal."

UPDATE Tuesday 25 June 2019  17:27ER24 spokesperson Russel Meiring says "15 people have been hospitalised following the SABC fire at Auckland Park.