Awareness of fire safety issues in the business community is not growing in tandem with the expansion of the urban commercial sector, Fire Chief Marlon Gentle told Stabroek Business in an interview earlier this week.
He said it was unfortunate that the significant expansion of Georgetown’s commercial sector in recent years was not being matched by a commensurate sensitivity to fire safety issues in the business community.
“I wouldn’t say that nothing is being done to address fire safety issues,” Gentle told Stabroek Business, “but it is clear that more can be done. Unfortunately, there are too many cases in which it appears that profit is put before safety.”
Gentle said that the available evidence suggested that there are “positives” and “negatives” in the evolution of the business community’s appreciation of the vulnerability of the city to fires.
“On the one hand we have seen the replacement of some of the old wooden buildings in the commercial capital with new, high-rise concrete structures,” he added. While there is evidence that some of those who are part of the new wave of construction are not following the building code, that is not so in every case. At the same time concrete structures help to protect against uncontrollable fires though some of the buildings themselves are vulnerable inside.
The Fire Chief singled out the new Camp and Regent streets multi-storey complex housing United Investment Trading as an example of a recently constructed commercial complex that had “worked with the Fire Department and embraced its regulations. I would have to say that our inspections suggest that they were compliant with our recommendations. They certainly went the distance in terms of the installation of sprinklers, early alarms and fire-resistant materials in addition to which we noted the layout of the building as far as safety is concerned.”
Meanwhile, Gentle said the Fire Service continued to be concerned over the fact that the nature of the occupancy of several buildings in the commercial sector had changed over the years. “The fact is that we continue to have a situation in which small, old wooden buildings are now being used as stores and storehouses for what, in some cases, are large quantities of combustible material.”
He told Stabroek Business that the level of indifference to safety standards in some business places in the city had reached a point where in the event of a fire, firemen’s lives could be put at serious risk. “Sometimes, frankly, we assess situations and decide that they are simply too dangerous to risk our firemen’s lives,” Gentle said, adding that given the level of risk that obtained in some cases local firemen continued to demonstrate “courage of the highest order.”
And according to Gentle the Guyana Fire Service continues to have ongoing dialogue with the business community. A major engagement between the business community including both individual business houses and umbrella organisations and the Fire Service is scheduled to take place before year end.