May 07, 2021 Letters
The huge fire at Sharon’s Mall on Charlotte and King Streets could have been avoided if action was taken to modernise the more than five decades-old building codes. The burning down of the building has evoked the urgent need for adequate and updated building codes, especially electrical circuit designs. With mega shopping centres being constructed, the country still relies on outdated systems in workmanship, architecture and sloppy enforcement of building codes. New building regulations are needed in every area of both commercial and residential buildings.
It is noteworthy that the Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Robeson Benn, who was on the scene of the fire declared ‘the need for fire fighters to better understand the types of building construction and the challenges they are likely to face when engaging conflagrations.’ He added that in the future, buildings that are constructed higher than two floors must have effective fire alarm and sprinkler systems. It is the first time that a minister has publicly pronounced on the need to end the poor construction of buildings. More than five years ago I indicated in several letters the very deficiencies highlighted by the Minister. I also underscored the fact that our fire fighters are not professionally trained to perform their tasks efficiently, not to mention the poor state of their equipment and the wretched state of the country’s water supply system.
Guyana needs a complete overhaul of its antiquated building codes and outmoded safety standards. Here are some solutions:
1. Generally speaking, buildings in Guyana do not confirm to designate classification. For example, some single-family homes are converted into tenant occupied portions so that homeowners can accommodate family members and obtain some extra income. However, the same original plumbing and electric systems are used to support additional lighting and appliances. A microwave oven, an air conditioner unit and a refrigerator can utilise as much wattage to induce overloading and precipitate sparks in the electrical system that could result in fire. Also, extension cords, most times hidden under carpet, with multiple connections can overheat and become a fire hazard. And in some cases, individuals tend to break off earth safety prong in three way plugs to accommodate plug-ins. Discarding the earth safety prong is also a fire hazard that could result from overloading of the electrical system.
2. Single Room Occupancy buildings, which are prevalent in Guyana, should be inspected regularly to make sure that all their safety designs are intact.
3. A minimum space of at least 10 feet between buildings should be incorporated into building codes and zoning regulations. This will allow for the safe evacuation of persons as well as allow easy access to fire fighters, police and ambulance attendants.
4. All commercial buildings in the country should be equipped with sprinkler systems and a series of road-side water connections on fire hydrants are needed to connect fire hoses to put out the flames quickly in the event of a fire. Smoke alarms should be installed along corridors which are the principal pathways for smoke.
5. Automated oxygen retardant systems need to be installed indoors to prevent the triggering of chemical spray in high temperatures. Storage of cooking gas containers must be stored outdoors and not inside closed buildings. The reason is they are highly flammable and any leakage/explosion will dissipate harmlessly into the atmosphere.
6. Bonds, regardless of what is stored in them must be sectionalised with walls comprised of concrete and steel (fire-proof) connecting doors like the compartments in ships such as oil tankers.
In the final analysis, the Bureau of Standards and the Housing Authority in Guyana must enforce the safety features and occupancy of commercial buildings. Qualified engineers and safety inspectors must be mandated by law to conduct annual inspections to make sure that the building codes and safety standards are complied with to prevent tragedies in future. Huge fines and in some cases, imprisonment must be imposed on all forms of non-compliance if the powers that be are truly serious about preventing fires. Will this happen? Time will tell!
Real Estate Builder (New York)
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