Gafoor’s blaze ‘accidental in nature’ – Fire Chief

-urges building code

Preliminary investigations indicate that Monday’s devastating fire at the Gafoor’s Houston Com-plex was “accidental in nature”, according to Fire Chief Marlon Gentle.

Gentle made this disclosure at Parliament yesterday afternoon shortly after President David Granger had finished his address to the National Assembly.

He did not expound on the “accidental” nature of the fire, stressing that “that is all we can say at this time”. Investigations, he said, are still ongoing.

Marlon Gentle
Marlon Gentle

The massive fire which gutted 60% of the East Bank Demerara Complex saw all of the Guyana Fire Service’s available resources being utilized to help fight the conflagration that had quickly spread from the bond to other sections of the complex.

While firefighters eventually succeeded in containing the fire, a total of six firemen had to be treated for injuries from smoke inhalation and as a result of a wall collapsing and pinning three of them under the rubble.

The disaster has raised many questions ranging from safety training for firemen to the sufficiency of fire suppression systems in buildings of this kind.

Asked about the existing building standards meeting what is outlined in the Fire Prevention Act, Gentle said the issue of fire safety in Guyana is an “all-encompassing feature”. He explained that there is need for a lot of other issues to be addressed, one of which is a building code. Gentle said that this code speaks to fire safety and how you construct a building and what types of materials are used. “That of course has to be done with the collaboration of many other agencies. We have been harping for a long time now for the need for the building code that was developed and was in the draft stages to be moved forward to some level of implementation which would alleviate all of these issues that we encounter with regulating the building industry. This is not a Guyana Fire Service or a Fire Prevention Act”, he said.

He said that the Fire Prevention Act is there as a guide to give the fire service powers to inspect these buildings. He added that a code is needed to “regulate what is going on with these buildings”.

On the issue of adequate firefighting equipment, Gentle said that “there is some amount of protection for firefighters. We continue to acquire based on our budgetary allocations and this thing is an ongoing update to ensure everybody is properly protected”.

Speaking on the safety aspect of firefighting, Gentle said that this is the first line of training that a firefighter would receive. He said that how to be safe is a part of the continuous training that the firefighters would receive.

Meanwhile, Gentle said that only one of the injured firemen remains hospitalised. He was referring to Roylon Greene, age 23. He was one of the three who were injured as a result of the wall collapsing.

The Fire Chief told reporters that the injured fireman has sustained a fracture to his lower back. Gentle said that the fire officer is in hospital for observation, noting that doctors have assured that there is nothing serious but that he needs to be immobilized for a while so that his back could heal.

Greene had told Stabroek News from his bed at the Georgetown Hospital that since the incident several tests were performed but  doctors are yet to give any specific information as it relates to what caused the pain in his legs. Greene further stated that as far as he is aware, there was an injury to his spine but he’s not quite certain if that is indeed the case.

The young man who has not yet completed two years in the Fire Service expressed concern that his mother has to cover all medical costs since he has not yet received any word on whether the fire service will aid in covering medical costs.

According to Greene, this would also include the cost of undergoing a CT scan, which he hopes would enable doctors to pinpoint the seriousness of his injuries.

Gentle indicated that the CT scan has been done and assured that Greene is not footing the bill for his medical treatment. “Of course not”, he stressed adding that the Fire Service is trying to recover some money which the injured fireman said was stolen from him.

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