#FireSafety: Are we getting it all wrong?

It’s fire prevention week and the theme is “Hear the beep where you sleep”. While it is important to have working smoke alarms, I can’t help but think about some of the fire accidents that have stayed with me over the years and how the deaths could have been prevented. I didn’t witness any of them but I followed them closely. I am also not blaming anyone (except those who lock up employees and leave no means of escape in case of an emergency) as everyone makes mistakes – my only pain is that many if not all accidents are preventable and unfortunately people die and death is irreversible. When an accident happens and people involved are rescued with no fatality, I have come to realise that people tend to quickly forget about it. It is human nature I guess…

All accidents are important but I can’t write about them all but here are a few that still crosses my mind each time I hear about a fire:

Nigeria, September 2002: I came across this after reading about a fire that broke out in the United States sometime in 1911 where the workers were locked-in and when the fire broke out, there was no escape. This fire in Nigeria, happened after an explosion at a Chinese owned factory in Lagos that left 20 dead, although it is believed the number could be as high as 50. It was alleged that the workers were locked-in during their night duty. There was an explosion and because there was no way of escape the workers lost their lives that day. Locked in possibly because there is a general distrust of Nigerians and you don’t want them leaving with a little something for themselves right? Maybe. Same reason why the Americans were locked-in in 1911.

UK, 3rd July 2009: The Lakanal house fire that killed 6. This fire was a result of a faulty TV. Lakanal house is a 14 storey tower block with a total of 98 flats in Camberwell, London. I lived in the UK at the time of this fire and I remember feeling really hurt by this accident after I read details of why some of them lost their lives. It was believed then that the deaths were preventable as the some of the deceased remained inside the building rather than fleeing to safety – one of them was actually on the phone to emergency services for over 30 minutes before losing consciousness. They were apparently following the advice of the fire fighters – which any sane human should. The building at the time of the fire didn’t meet the fire safety standards but the council has reportedly spent about £3.5 million refurbishing it to meet the current fire safety standards. The question is why wait till there is a tragedy? Even developed countries with stringent Health and Safety practices make mistakes. You might want to use this link to read the inquests into the fire and the deaths.

Brazil, 27th January 2013: The fire at a club called Kiss left at least 231 people dead. The fire started at the ceiling of the kiss nightclub as a result of firework being done by the band playing at the time. The ceiling was made with flammable acoustic foam insulation hence making it easy for the fireworks to result in a fire. The fire spread rapidly and the situation was made worse by a stampede as there was just one exit at the club! Yes the one exit was what resulted in the high number of fatality. Many died of smoke inhalation as the only exit was filled with smoke and many were trying to find their way out at the same time – and definitely not calmly so one fell, then another, and another and….. There were 2000 people in the club and the 231 people died that day were mostly University and College students. The maximum capacity of the club was 1,000 so that day it was double the capacity. Two nightclub owners and 2 members of the band playing that day were accused of negligent homicide and charged with manslaughter. For more details visit these links CNN and PubMed Central

Nigeria, 16th April 2015: A fire at the Mamman Kontagora building in Marina. I remember this so well because my sister works in a building just feets away from the Mamman Kontagora building and I remember calling her to find out if she was okay when I heard about the fire. She said there was no casualties and they had all been successfully evacuated. This fire was caused by a surge from a generator on the third floor. To be honest I wasn’t surprised when I heard a generator was at fault. I don’t trust those things. It took ages for me to get used to putting one on and even staying alone at home once it is on. It is just worrisome that they make so much noise, emit smoke and survive on fuel (fuel that catches fire too quick). Shouldn’t generators be used on rare occasions? Having to use it everyday is a nightmare and I can’t wait for the day Nigerians never have to use one. I once wrote on generators and will publish another on the psychological effects of using generators in the near future. Not sure why I have been procrastinating that task.

The list is endless and worse fires than these have happened and of course I can’t write about them all. My worry is that we are getting it wrong when it comes to fire safety – from lack of laws to ignorance to mistakes and negligence to “this is Africa, we can do what we please”. The reasons are endless.

I am no fire expert but I know enough, have delivered countless training on fire safety and emergency procedures to know that we are failing in our duty – as individuals, collectively and the Government most of all. How? Watch this space!