Two of the corpses recovered after the March 3 Camp Street prison fire bore signs of trauma that was not consistent with fire injuries, according to Fire Chief Marlon Gentle, who said the deaths warrant investigation.
Resuming his testimony before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the fatal prison fire, Gentle, who stated that he is equipped with 15 years’ experience as an investigator in the Fire Service, noted that he has had many harrowing experiences during the length of his career but none compared to the reports he received of the scene on the day in question.
He spoke in particular of two bodies that were discovered in the aftermath; one was decapitated, as was mentioned by witnesses before, with the head located a fairly good distance away from the body; the other was in a slouching position, with intestines protruding. Gentle stated that the latter appeared to be perched atop a toilet seat.
“Me, in my honest opinion and my experience, both of the bodies suffered other types of trauma than the fire, meaning they were subjected to some level of force being applied to them, either by striking or stabbing or something,” the Fire Chief opined. He said that even with the violence of a mini-explosion, he did not find that the conditions of the bodies were consistent with fire injuries. It is unclear who the inmates were, although the authorities have released the names of 17 inmates who perished after the fire.
In his testimony, Gentle, who stated on Wednesday that he had been monitoring the events by radio while off the scene, stated yesterday that soon after the fire crew began arriving at the prison, he heard the code “6-3” being transmitted. This code, he said, meant that by the time units arrived, the building had been engulfed in flames.
Joint Services attorney Eusi Anderson questioned the Fire Chief on the factors that could have caused such a highly combustible situation that resulted in the building being engulfed by the time the firefighter arrived.
He explained that the division, being mainly concreted, was built with reducing combustibility in mind (as per recommendation by the Fire Service), but noted that a number of highly ignitable materials existed within the building, including mattresses, bedding and clothing. Once ignited, he explained, the vapours released by the burning material could combine to produce a “rollover.”
“As the materials ignite and the heat is generated, they liberate vapours. Those vapours form what is known as fire gases and they’re locked within that ceiling…the embers burn and smolder and they roll on the ceiling. After then, they have nowhere to go, they flash. That flash raises the temperature of that room to over 1000 degrees in seconds. The continuity of that flash, however, will depend on the amount of combustibles remaining after the vapours would have flashed. And that, in my own experience and training, is what actually happened.”
He further stated that by a temperature of 150 degrees Celsius, which can be attained within seconds, the vapours become life threatening, and he conceded under questioning that it is reasonable to assume that by the time the Fire Service arrived, those who had perished, had perished already as a result of those very vapours.
Also testifying yesterday was Commander of ‘A’ Division Clifton Hicken, who had not been in charge on the ground that day but was briefed on events when he arrived on the scene.