Building code needed to ensure fire safety

- Fire Service Divisional Officer

Divisional Officer of the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) Compton Sparman last Friday called for the establishment of a building code that would ensure the protection of persons in the event of fires.

Sparman made the call while making a presentation to a security forum and expo organised by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) at Duke Lodge, Kingston, where he also reported that over 1,000 buildings went up in flames in the last year.

Sparman, the GFS’s longest serving member, said that the entity had advocated for the fire safety and occupancy code or the building code, as it is popularly called, to be established to protect citizens.

“I think we need to have a better focus on fire prevention and one of the things that is lacking are the laws,” he said.

“I think it is time… the building code is established to protect ourselves. The laws are there for us to adhere to and when you break the law you are punished,” he added.

Compton Sparman
Compton Sparman

Sparman divided his presentation into three parts: education, engineering and enforcement. Sparman, who appealed for funding to help in propelling an education campaign, informed that the fire prevention education system is not up to standard. He said because of financial limitations, the GFS is unable to reach a large section of the population, particularly during Fire Prevention Week, which is observed in October. As a result, he said they focus their attention on schools and would conduct radio programmes. “Those things cost money and sponsorship. You find easily you get sponsorship for security but nothing for fire safety because it is only when it affects you, you understand what it really means to lose things that you have worked for over a number of years,” he said, while stressing that he is not trying to cast blame but was just trying to state the facts.

He noted that in some parts of the world, systems, such as sprinklers, are mandatory before a business can begin operation. “In Guyana, we do it on a goodwill basis,” he pointed out.

While addressing engineering, Sparman noted that the structure of a building needs to be sound for fire safety but most times the fire department has no say before a building is constructed. “We are very much aware that those plans are supposed to reach us …We supposed to do site inspections and make fire safety recommendations before that building is completed and most times it comes to us when the building is completed. There [are] no checks and balances,” he said.

He also pointed to the absence of equipment, like extinguishers, necessary to aid firefighting and blamed the situation on the laws. He spoke of his visits to many other countries where he took note of the presence of these pieces of equipment in buildings.

According to Sparman, firefighting is a skill that needs collaboration of agencies in order to operate. He said that the main focus of the GFS is on Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) and fire hydrants. He called Regent Street a “threat” to fire fighting. He said that the challenge in this particular area is the limited availability of water as the nearest sources are the Church Street canal and the Croal Street canal, which are difficult to reach. “We are trying to work with GWI to ensure that some of the hydrants are working. But that’s not the problem. We need all the hydrants working in Guyana [because] if you don’t have the pressure it’s a waste of time,” he said.

For decades the fire hydrant system has been in disrepair with neither the city nor the GWI accepting responsibility for it. The non-functioning hydrants have made fighting fires much more difficult.

A year ago, then Minister within the Ministry of Communities Keith Scott announced a proposal that would have been tabled soon to revamp the existing fire hydrant system.

“The system that I’m advocating… is to have underground pipes that will bring water directly from the Demerara River into these hydrants, so that at a moment’s notice you can have water at all times, 24/7,” Scott had told the Government Information Agency during an interview.

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