A NIGHT OF FIRE AT PIETER WESSELS FRAILS CARE CENTRE
Written by E Ishmail, Communication Director: Transvaal Conference
When the night staff responded to the first warning of the fire at Pieter Wessels Frail Care Centre, they were prepared, they thought, for the fire. A clear fire drill was in place and the instructions were clearly communicated and posted at strategic points. All the extinguishers were clearly marker, as were the fire hoses and the fire escapes. But what the staff did not anticipate was that the fire will trigger the shut down of electricity and that plunged the entire facility into total darkness. The rapidly spreading fire and the noxious smoke caused widespread panic among the staff and those residents who could call for assistance. The staff was overcome – with smoke, panic and darkness.
At about 21h00 the alarm was raised at the local fire emergency station who in turn called for back-up from other parts of the municipality. Rescue efforts were slow because of the darkness and the smoke. The frail were pulled out on mattresses and sheets and placed in t front of the building. Fire-fighters did their best to put out the fire by 23h00 but by then it was only a matter of time to know who survived the devastating fire.
When this news broke the leaders and members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church community were shocked and stunned. Like the rest of the country, the news travelled very quickly. During the early part of Monday morning, sympathetic volunteers arrived to lend a hand. Offers of help streamed in from donors who were total strangers to the management of the facility. By the end of the day, the survivors were in the capable care of the Apostolic Faith Mission, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Zanele Mbeki Home for Frail Elderly and the Nigel.
The administrator of the facility, Charl du Toit, said it was a miracle that the fire did not destroy any of the financial and resident records. While the fire literally destroyed all the belongings of the facility and residents, it is small comfort that important documents were saved when the fire jumped this section of the building.
Ps Louis Gouws, the director of the facility, was tireless in his support of the devastating event. He was the one who had to answer most of the questions posed him by staff and relatives, as well as a host of media personnel. His responses were honest and to the point and we salute him and his staff for their acts of bravery.
Donations streamed in from all quarters. While the writer visited the site on Monday 02 August 2010 together with Andries van Zyl, TC Treasurer, several donors stopped by and offered huge donations. Members of the public stepped forward with offers of assistance. Various church organisations, business, government and other charitable entities made it clear that we were not alone in our moment of grief. At the time of deep human tragedy, human boundaries were forgotten as we recognised our extreme dependence on God Who is our Helper and Sustainer. Deep gratitude is expressed to each donor who felt impressed to assist the facility in her hour of need. God will reward them for their unselfish acts of charity.
The staff are bewildered and visibly shaken. Many of them had worked tirelessly through the night to rescue the lives of the frail elderly residents. Their faces told the story of despair and worry. The management met with the staff on Tuesday 03 August 2010 to assure them that all their concerns will be addressed in time. They will receive their usual salaries at the end of August.
Memorial and funeral services are being organised currently for the 22 frail residents who perished as a result of the fire. The surviving 84 have been placed at alternate care facilities like Adventhaven and Esda, among others. The Church extends their deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.
At this traumatic time for the leadership of the church in the Transvaal Conference, it is still comforting to know that God is our Refuge and Strength, a Present Help in trouble (Ps 46:1).
Donations needed currently are mainly disposal diapers for seniors and hard cash. Please deposit any amount of cash in to the following bank account:
Absa Bank, Heidelberg branch,
Account number: 1001390755.
It is our prayer that each of us will remain sensitive to needs of others. The Church is reminded of the words of Jesus: “And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Mat 25:40
04 August 2010.