All fires are preventable (except those set by arsonists) and it is fair to say that almost all fires are caused by irresponsible conduct. The recent fire (Feb.18 2020) in Regent Street which reduced The Sachi Store to ashes is ample testimony that there is a dire need for all in society to strive to prevent such destructive fires, some of which can be deadly. Just last year I indicated that many home owners are violating the building codes in the country and this, along with poor safety enforcement, procedures should be of great concern for everyone, especially for those at the Housing Authorities. The fire at Pike and Thomas Streets in Kitty a few years ago is the type of tragedy I have constantly written about in this newspaper.
The fire at Plaisance a year ago and at Ms. Joslyn Dow’s Charlotte St. Complex as well as those at Cummings Lodge, the Medical Storage bond in Patentia (West Demerara) and Fazia’s Collection building on Avenue of the Republic clearly reveal that there is an urgent need for more safety inspections. The Congenital Super Center in Cane Grove which was burnt to the ground on November 2016 is also a case for stricter inspections. Guyana needs a complete overhaul of its building codes and safety standards. Here are some solutions:
1. Some buildings in Guyana, generally do not confirm to the country’s building codes. Single family homes are secretly converted into tenant occupied residences so that homeowners can accommodate family members and get some rental income. The flaw in this is that there is the original plumbing and electric systems for a single family have to support tenants with additional appliances for the same outlets. In other words, in a single family house the electrical system was built to accommodate one microwave oven, an air conditioner and a Frigidaire but having tenants means more appliances—enough to induce overloading of the electrical circuits. In some cases, extension cords are hidden under carpets, and their multiple connections could induce sparks, which in turn could result in burning the carpet. Then there is the scenario where persons break off the earth safety prongs in three way plugs to accommodate plug-ins, which is a fire hazard.
2. Single Room Occupancy which is prevalent in Hospitals and other multi-family buildings should be inspected on a yearly basis in order to prevent fires.
3. In Guyana, the building codes and zoning regulations should be updated to allow a minimum space of roughly eight feet between buildings to facilitate evacuation as well as allow access to firefighters.
4. Given the spate of fires on commercial buildings, especially attached ones, it should be mandated that all commercial buildings be fitted with modern sprinkler systems to prevent their entire destruction in case of fire. Automated oxygen retardant systems should also be installed inside commercial buildings so that an increase in temperature (say at 110 F) will trigger off the chemical spray which will reduce the oxygen in the fire and thus contained it. Smoke alarms should be installed in homes and along the corridors of commercial buildings which are the principal pathways for smoke.
5. Bonds, regardless of what is stored in them, need to be sectionalized, much like the compartments in ships, especially oil tankers in which compartments are fire-proof. This, coupled with periodic safety inspections, must be the way forward. Storage of cooking gas containers must not be placed inside a closed building. Propane is highly flammable and needs to be stored outdoors: any leakage/explosion will dissipate harmlessly into the atmosphere.
6. Perhaps the worst aspect of construction in Guyana is the electrical system, materials and installation codes, all of which should be updated to reach international standards. For example, the main power distribution panels in both residential and commercial buildings should be equipped with Fly Back Circuit Breakers in the event of an over load. In other words, any over load will cause the breaker to trip, thus shutting of the power and prevent a fire.
7. Fire hydrants which are generally taken for granted by many instead they should be seen as a means of emergency water supply to out fires. For the safety of all Guyanese, young or old, The Bureau of Standards must make it its duty to monitor the quality of electrical fittings and accessories, most of which are imported from China. And while these electrical accessories are cheap, the Bureau of Standards should not place cheapness ahead of life. And the Housing Authority must determine the safety features and occupancy of commercial buildings.
8. In the final analysis the Housing authorities should put safety first and institute rigid and sound polices which must be mandated by law, to prevent further tragedies. All buildings must be insured, have sprinkler systems and undergo a yearly inspection by the Fire Department where pitfalls will be identified and corrected. Fines must be imposed on all forms of non-compliance if Guyana is truly serious about preventing fires and saving lives.
Leyland Chitlall Roopnaraine
Real Estate Builder (New York)
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