May 24, 2023 News
Kaieteur News – While it is very tragic and saddening, the recent fire at a high school dormitory at Mahdia, Region Eight exposes a greater social problem, the lack of implementation and enforcement of adequate fire safety and prevention measures.
Civil society advocates, who joined in mourning the deaths of the 19 children who died on Sunday night, are calling on the authorities to implement better fire prevention policies and framework for public buildings.
While he expressed condolences to the parents and family members of those who died in the fire, businessman and founding member of civil society group ‘Article 13’, Dr. Yog Mahadeo noted it is a very costly lesson for Guyana.
Dr. Mahadeo noted that fires that took place at public buildings point to the need for the government to examine policies and framework for public buildings with regards to fire safety and prevention.
“We must ask ourselves what is the fire code for these public buildings. Look at the Police HQ…. and then look at the School in Mahdia and let’s ask where there fire drills? What [building] code is in place and how effectively are they revised and practised?”
Dr. Mahadeo said therefore that the time to start the assessment of schools and public building is now.
“Let the public be assured that code, drills, practice sessions, and all the relevant safety protocols are certified in all schools and public buildings. We cannot and must not let this lesson be lost in vain,” he said.
US-based Guyanese transparency advocate, Dr. Jerry Jailall also shared similar views. He noted that fire prevention, safety, and building codes enforcement should get a higher priority after lessons learned from each fire that occurred at the building.
“We move from one fire to the next and very little remains unchanged. With Government buildings costing so much these days, we hope that proper fire prevention and fire safety features are being included.
Even where there are rules and laws and regulations, supervision is weak and enforcement is lax. There needs to be an infusion of a large dose of accountability in the process. We must modernize our building codes to match today’s science on building construction and safety,” Dr. Jailall said.
He noted too that all public buildings should have warning systems such as fire alarms, smoke detectors and alarms, sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers in each building.
According to Dr. Jailall, Government buildings must set the standard.
This must be supported by regular site visits where inspectors give reports on each visit and follow up to make sure violations are addressed.
The US-based Guyanese stressed that the Mahdia tragedy is a wake-up call for all Guyana. He noted that the government needs to invest more in fire prevention and safety, and each household and business must take stock of their own building safety.
“The Mahdia children must not die in vain. As a nation, we must all take responsibility for our own safety, but especially the government must lead the way to modernize our fire prevention and firefighting methods,” Dr. Jailall added.
Many public buildings in Guyana are not equipped with adequate fire safety and prevention measures.
According to information posted via the Guyana Bureau of Standards’ (GNBS) website adequate fire prevention requires built-in equipment and warning systems that must be installed to alert occupants of a potential or current fire in a building. These can be in the form of smoke detectors, sprinklers or alarm systems that alert the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) when a fire starts.
Further, the GNBS said that the Building Code stipulates, in the event of a fire, adequate fire-suppression equipment shall be available to restrict the fire to the room in which it originated. Such a system will minimise damage to the building and its contents and prevent the fire from spreading to other rooms or buildings.
In addition, many times, firefighters are hindered by the amount of smoke emanating from buildings that are on fire. As such, adequate smoke control systems are recommended by this section of the code to minimise the spread of smoke to escape paths, compartments and other buildings to enable access. Such control systems also aid in protecting occupants of the building and enable them to leave the structure and its precincts in safety. (Rehanna Ramsay)
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