On 10 August at around 22:00, a room in Block A of CampusKey’s Glyn building caught fire, spread, and caused extensive damage to several rooms. Although no injuries or deaths were reported, the fire caused extensive damage to three rooms and the building itself, costing thousands of rands. A resident, Anna Doe*, said to PDBY that the majority of the items in their room were destroyed and that “you don’t realise how much everything in your room costs”. They also lost numerous items in their room of sentimental value including items that they did not think they would have to insure. However, what is equally as pressing is the allegations regarding a lack of safety precautions in place at CampusKey Glyn, specifically that the fire alarm did not go off, which soon followed.
Several residents reported that the fire started in one room, and subsequently spread to the two rooms adjacent to it before causing the roof to collapse.
Doe, explained their version of the events saying that around 22:00 another resident, Dyllan Tweedy, was running up and down their hallway informing residents that there was a fire. Doe was unsure if this claim was true because they claim that no fire alarm nor did any sprinklers go off. Once Doe exited their room, the hallway was filled with black smoke, and Doe said that they could not see where the fire originated from but decided to exit via the staircase. This resident said to PDBY that two to three minutes after they exited the building, the roof collapsed on their room. Doe claims that Tweedy’s actions were the main reason that there were no injuries. Three other residents of CampusKey, including Tweedy, confirmed that no fire alarm went off. However, an air horn did go off, which Tweedy and the resident confirmed had been utilised previously during the building’s fire drills.
The cause of the fire
CampusKey told PDBY that the cause of the fire is unknown but did not confirm if the cause of the fire was still being investigated.
Resident John Adams*, who wishes to remain anonymous, said to PDBY that the cause of the fire could not be determined until the debris in place was cleared. Yet, CampusKey informed PDBY on 1 October that “the full reinstatement of the building has already begun, and our construction team is working around the clock to complete it as soon as possible.” Residents at CampusKey Glyn have still not been informed as to the cause of the fire, almost three months later.
However, Doe’s main concern following these events was that the fire alarm did not go off, and the potential safety implications this has not only on CampusKey Glyn but on CampusKey South as well.
After the fire, allegations arose that CampusKey Glyn had minimal safety precautions in place prior to the fire: specifically, that there was no functioning fire alarm or smoke detectors. In addition to this, PDBY also received a tip that the fire hoses did not work. Although PDBY could not verify if the fire hoses functioned on the night of the fire, PDBY confirmed the presence of fire hoses on various floors of CampusKey Glyn.
However, after a general survey of the CampusKey Glyn building, PDBY noted that there were no smoke detectors visibly in place in either the resident’s rooms or in the corridors or passageways of the building. PDBY also noted that there was no fire alarm control panel installed in the building, but instead, air horns were present in various glass cases. This offers clarity regarding concerns that the fire alarm did not go off – as there was no automated fire alarm to begin with.
Although the air horn proved to be an effective way of alerting student residents of the fire, it cannot be ignored that the time frame for someone to manually engage this air horn, could leave room for injury. This is especially relevant considering Adams said to PDBY that residents are required to go down to the reception to alert staff members if there is a fire, as they are not allowed to blow the airhorn themselves.
When approached for comment regarding the safety precautions in place, specifically the presence of smoke detectors, fire alarms, fire doors, and fire extinguishers, Lize Burns, the community leader for Campus Key said that “the incident occurred almost 2 months ago – I am not sure if the story is still relevant.” Burns continued by saying “the full reinstatement of the building has already begun, and our construction team is working around the clock to complete it as soon as possible.”
When approached again for comment Burns said “CampusKey always has all safety measures and precautions in place”. After another attempt at receiving comment Burns elaborated saying that “CampusKey complies with all health, safety, and fire regulation according to [their] occupancy certificate.”
However, CampusKey declined to expressly confirm that there was a comprehensive fire detection system and smoke detectors installed at the time of the fire, after numerous attempts to receive clarity on the situation. This could present a serious issue as it is required by “The Policy On The Minimum Norms And Standards For Student Housing At Public Universities” put in place in 2015 by Dr Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, that privately owned accomodations accredited by public universities must comply with certain minimum safety measures. These measures include the installation of smoke detectors in all passageways.
However, CampusKey Glyn is not only a student accommodation but also a private accredited residence with UP, meaning that UP is responsible for vetting the residence and ensuring that it is up to scratch before renewing its accreditation on an annual basis.
Campus Key’s accreditation status with UP
UP’s accreditation process includes a checklist, which includes various minimum standards of housing discussed above, to be completed by the accommodation seeking accreditation.
Kgomotso Legari, the Director for Residence Affairs and Accomodation, confirmed this stating that “the process of accrediting private accommodation is guided by the university’s accreditation policy, which gets the directive from the Department of Education’s policy on minimum norms and standards for student housing at public universities.”
What should be noted is that this checklist includes the presence of smoke detectors in passages/corridors as well as the installation of a fire control system. As stated above, a survey of the CampusKey Glyn building revealed that there are no smoke detectors installed in the passageways of the building. Although there is a “fire alarm” or air horn that can be manually enabled in the case of an emergency, it was not confirmed whether this meets the definition of fire alarm control box.
When PDBY approached Legari to verify if all accredited accommodations are required to have smoke detectors and a fire system control panel installed Legari responded by saying “there are many requirements […] the requirement of smoke detectors may be dependent on the size of a building, and as determined by the Municipality. However, the main document in terms of the accreditation process will be the certificate of occupancy from the Municipality, after the Municipality has considered certain requirements.”
PDBY attempted to reach Legari to follow up on this matter to establish if compliance with the minimum standards of student housing, as reflected on the accreditation checklist, are then not compulsory. However, PDBY did not receive a response from Legari before going to print. PDBY also reached out to Legari to question what the minimum standards and requirements for accreditation are and whether CampusKey Glyn received full accreditation status for the year 2022. Although PDBY did not receive a response from Legari, CampusKey Glyn is listed as an accredited accommodation on UP’s list of 2022 Private UP Accredited Accommodation Providers.
Although no injuries were reported and certain residents, such as Tweedy, have expressed that they are still comfortable residing in Campus Key following this incident, the lack of certain safety precautions in place should nevertheless be questioned.
*The identities of residents who are given an alias or listed as anonymous are known to PDBY.