Jul 09, 2016 News
Two brothers aged six and four, were burnt to death early yesterday after a fire, believed to be electrical in origin, destroyed the Children’s Drop-in-Centre on Hadfield Street, where they were temporarily placed.
The remains of six-year-old Joshua George and Antonio George, four, were found among the debris shortly after fire fighters extinguished the blaze which started around 12:05 hrs.
Kaieteur News was told that the two brothers along with three other siblings were taken into the Drop-in Centre around 05:30 hrs on Wednesday after Social Workers responded to a call of neglect and maltreatment.
Medical examinations done at the Diamond Hospital confirmed that the five siblings were indeed victims of neglect and maltreatment. They were temporarily placed at the Home until further investigations could have been done.
At the time of the fire, two Social Services Assistants, Rupert Hinds and Sharon Jones were on duty, monitoring 34 children.
Hinds was overlooking the boys, who were housed in the lower flat while Jones was supervising the females, housed in the upper flat. The two brothers were placed in the upper flat of the building.
When the fire started, the children at the centre were asleep.
Recalling what transpired early yesterday, Jones said that the girls went to bed as usual. Around 12:05 hrs yesterday, while sitting next to a door in the top flat of the property, she heard strange sounds coming from the wire on the wall.
“I look at the wire and saw blue flames coming out of the wire box and it running up the wall. I panicked and grabbed the girl who was next to me and called out for Hinds. The girls started to panic and scream and tug at me,” Jones revealed.
She added that she gave one of the girls the keys to open the door while she started to wake and to assist the other girls.
“There was a baby I had and I rest her down. Then I realized I didn’t pick up this baby so I run around the other side and I saw the little boy, Antonio, coming to me from the other end,” the house mother pointed out.
She said at that point, objects started to fall from the top so she had to duck under a bed and grab the baby with one arm then collect four-year-old Antonio with the other arm.
“Same time, Hinds and one of the boys come and started to work (extinguish the blaze). By time I got to the door, I didn’t even realize the little boy wasn’t in my hands anymore. Sir (Hinds) tried his best (to save the little boy),” Jones recounted.
It is believed that four-year-old George loosed Jones’ hands and went back to look for his older brother.
Also relating what transpired was Hinds. At a press conference held at the Ministry of Social Protection’s Stabroek Market Head Office late yesterday, the Social Services Assistant said that he learnt of the blaze after he heard the girls upstairs screaming.
“I had worked between 20:00 hrs on Thursday to 08:00 hrs the following day. During that time, I was in charge of 13 boys.”
He said that when the females upstairs started screaming, he wanted to know what had happened. Before he could have got upstairs to inquire, his co-worker, Jones started shouting for fire.
Hinds said that he immediately woke the boys and told them to vacate the building. “Some were sleeping so I asked those who were up to wake them.”
According to the house father, he armed himself with a fire extinguisher and with the help of one of the older boys, he went up to assist the girls. “While going up, Miss Jones was descending the step along with the other girls. We tried to extinguish the fire but the flames got bigger.”
He said that they then exited the building and he made numerous calls to 911 and the Fire Service but failed to get onto anyone.
“While in the street, my colleague said two of the smaller boys were upstairs. We tried to get there but couldn’t. Shortly after the fire service came and went in action,” Hinds recounted.
Head of the Child Care Protection Agency, Ann Greene, said that the Ministry of Social Protection takes full responsibility for the tragedy and will bear the full cost of the funeral arrangements.
“In the long term, CPA will work with this family to ensure the other three siblings, and their ailing mother, receive all the support and help they need,” she said, adding that the Guyana Fire Service is still conducting investigation to determine the cause of the fire.
According to the CPA head, the Drop-in Centre was recently refurbished and a fire extinguisher installed with advice from the Guyana Fire Service. The Centre also acquired fire blankets and a fire alarm system.
“Ironically, the handing-over ceremony for the just-renovated boys’ dorm was scheduled for (yesterday). Ironically too, a family member of the deceased brothers was also scheduled to meet with CPA officials for the five children to be placed in family-based care with support from our foster-care programme.”
Kaieteur News was told that the other 29 children from the Drop-in Centre are housed at the Sophia Care Centre and the Half Way Home, located in the Care Centre’s compound and are currently receiving therapy provided by specialists from the Georgetown Public Hospital.
Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence, expressed her sympathy to the George family.
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