Gafoors assists firemen injured in May 9 inferno

- cause of fire undetermined, CEO says

More than a month after a massive fire gutted sections of the Gafoors Houston complex resulting in billions of dollars in losses, the company yesterday offered financial aid to the six firemen who were injured during the blaze.

The firm’s Finance Director Michael Daniels handed over cheques to firemen Roylon Greene, Neville Cumberbatch, Stephan Patterson, Dwayne Waldron, Eon Halley and Kerron Moore at a simple ceremony at the Houston complex. According to Daniels, the cheques are meant to be a sign of appreciation on behalf of the company, for the work the firemen did in helping to save the building from the May 9 fire.

“We want to compensate them because they would have been off the job for some time now since the fire. At the same time, we want to show our appreciation for them having gone beyond the call of duty and also even though we may have lost a lot in the fire, we would like for them to share some kinship with us,” Daniels said. He added that the cheques are not meant to fully compensate for what the men experienced with regard to having been injured, but it is the company’s hope that it helps in offsetting whatever expenses they would have faced in light of their injuries.

Speaking to Stabroek News, Cumberbatch described the company’s move as a good gesture and commended the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sattaur Gafoor for the move. The fireman said that most of those who were injured while fighting the fire had sought medical attention at private hospitals and the money would help in offsetting some of those expenses and offer some financial relief for their families.

Five of the six firemen who were injured as a result of the Gafoors fire pose with representatives of the company, including Finance Director Michael Daniels (second left) shortly after receiving their cheques.
Five of the six firemen who were injured as a result of the Gafoors fire pose with representatives of the company, including Finance Director Michael Daniels (second left) shortly after receiving their cheques.

With regard to their recovery, Cumberbatch related that while some of his colleagues have already returned to work, others like himself and Greene are still on leave. He said that Greene sustained injuries to his spine while he, Cumberbatch, sustained a fractured lumbar and expects to do follow-up visits to the hospital sometime this week.

Daniels disclosed that the amounts on the cheques varied from $100,000 to $75,000 for each fireman, with the amount being based on the extent of the injuries the men suffered.

Meanwhile, speaking with Stabroek News, Gafoor revealed that the Guyana Fire Service has completed its investigation and handed over the findings to him. He said that based on the report, the Fire Service was unable to specifically pinpoint what caused the fire and the cause was listed as undetermined.

Additionally, the CEO related that because the insurance companies are still conducting their own investigations, the reconstruction of the damaged building is yet to commence. He noted that the companies are yet to indicate what extent of the damage they would be covering.

“They would have carried out a quite a lot of work and they should give a decision with respect to the stocks soon. But with regard to the building, inspections are still being done by the civil engineer to determine the reliability of the building that is standing. They do recognise that the top portion has been severely damaged and they are still yet to determine whether the lower part can be saved,” he said.

Gafoor related that the pace of the investigations being done by the insurance companies worries him a bit since it continues to delay the reconstruction of the damaged building. “As a matter of fact, the very next day we had put (measures) in place for the columns and the beams to be constructed. As of tomorrow, we would have some of the staff coming in, so by Tuesday, we will start erection of the building that has been released to us,” the CEO said.

But even as moves are being made to rebuild, Gafoor said that business has not been as good as the period before the fire. “It has not been as good as that of before because obviously we don’t have the same amount of goods, the place has been burnt and we haven’t gotten replacements. We are not getting sufficient stocks nor do we have sufficient storage because bonds would have been burnt so we are not in the position at this moment to offer the quantities we usually would have offered, particularly to the wholesalers,” the CEO revealed.

Further, while it was reported that over 500 employees would have been displaced as result of the fire, the CEO pointed out that none of the employees were laid off as some were absorbed by the other Gafoors branches while others remained at Houston.

“Everybody was kept on. As a matter of fact, within four or five days, more than 500 hundred people were allocated either here or the different locations; about 18 or 20  people would have needed specialised equipment to do their work but that was rectified and they are back on the job,” Gafoor said.

The massive May 9 fire gutted 60% of the firm’s Houston complex and resulted in six firemen having to be treated for injuries from smoke inhalation and as a result of a wall collapsing and pinning three of them under the rubble. Billions of dollars in stocks and other goods were lost in the fire. The fire raged for hours.

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