It has been observed, and is still being observed, that fire incidents in this country, particularly in the Kanifing Municipal Council, are almost a daily occurrence: every other day, we hear the sirens of the Gambia Fire and Rescue Services water trucks speeding towards a place in this area, sometimes a market, sometimes a compound.
Many of these fire outbreaks only incur losses in property and material, but many also unfortunately result in losses of human lives. This is why any time these sirens are heard, people get very worried and anxious, as they do not know where there is a fire and how serious it is, what damages to lives and properties it would incur.
Many of these fires are caused by candles, and bad electric wiring network that can spark fire, as the quality of wires and electric appliances are most of the time of low and poor standards, as opposed to want obtained in the past, when all such appliances were British standards and stood the test of time. Nowadays, China and India have flooded the Third World market with their low quality mass production products.
There is no culture of fire safety standards being imposed on people, so that buildings are equipped with fire safety gadgets, fire exits and assembly points, as well as sensitization And information to people on what to do, how to act, where to assemble, what to do, in case of fire. I remember when we went to U.K on a short course, the first thing they did was to take us through the fire safety network, show us the extinguishers, the assembly point and the fire exits.
Many factors contribute to making the situation more difficult when a fire occurs:
- Poor planning and narrow roads make it very difficult for the Fire Brigade to get to the scene: they have to manage and squeeze their way through these roads, and also the crowd of onlookers.
- People always rush to any scene where there is a fire, and while some are busy trying to help out, though it is not always properly coordinated, some are also busy trying to find what they can steal! How can anybody think of stealing from people in a fire predicament?
- Water is not always easily accessible, and there are no fire stand pipes as is the case in many modern cities, where the Fire Brigade can refill their tanks and complete their operation on the spot.
- Most of the houses in the Gambia are line houses, connected to each other and sharing the same roof, so this makes it easy for fire to propagate through the ceilings and roofs and burn all houses or a majority of then, before being put out.
- Most of the material now sold in the country, and used by people in their houses, are highly flammable, as they are made of synthetic, plastic, so, you talk About curtains, bed sheets, clothing, decorations, etc…
- Houses and rooms are usually small and most of the time stuffed up with oversize furniture and equipment, which make it difficult to move around in them, and make it even more serious when a fire occurs.
- There is no building control as such, and even not at all, and people are allowed to build just any structures, particularly line houses, and put them to rent.
- Subject to confirmation, I think there is a law or regulation binding anybody to leave 40% of any plot of land free, but people build almost 90% of their plots, so there is no space for soak away systems, car parking garages, trees, gardens, etc…
What is even more worrisome is that the same mistakes are repeated in all new settlements, as you have smaller roads, lower quality buildings, absence of any provisions for easy access roads, no compulsion for fire extinguishers, no proper planning of roads and other infrastructure, to name a few.
Let me attempt to give a few recommendations:
1- The quality of electric material and equipment being imported into the Gambia must be of the best standards, and business people should not be allowed to keep dumping low quality material from china and India into this country.
2- The amount of flammable material being imported into the country must be reduced, or even stopped, as they are heavy contributors to the severity of fires.
3- There is an urgent need to review and rectify the planning of our settlements, and to provide adequate access roads, to enable the fire and rescue Services to have easy access to scenes of fire.
4- The sizes of houses, rooms, the positions of kitchens and other rooms in a building, must be inspected before and after people have settled in, and necessary observations and advice provided to people; this call for the reactivation and extension of the mandate of a building and settlement control structure, with offices all over the country, to pre-empt any scourge.
5- It is more than time to put in place a new institution with a mandate to take charge of all issues relating to development, monitoring and control of development and infrastructure.
6- It should be a compulsion to all landlords to adopt disaggregated roofs and structures in any building being erected, and the Building Control unit should inspect all buildings, starting with the building plan and development from start to finish, conducting surprise site visits and assessments, to ensure that fire safety standards are strictly adhered to by all.
7- Landlords should be compelled to provide a standby tap, with a long hose pipe, that can be used to fight any fire, pending the arrival of the fire and rescue Services.
8- Finally, there should be a national campaign to sensitize people and inform and train them on attitudes and behaviours to prevent fire out brakes, and to be able to minimize losses in case of fires.
Fire out brakes is one of the most serious tragedies people suffer, and they always cause terrible havoc to properties, lives and families. They most of the time strike poor or low level citizens whom they render poorer, homeless, take away loved ones, moneys and valuables.
To prevent is better than having to cure, so it is about time we as a country and Nation, rectify the wrongs and adhere to the norms that would keep our people safe from these tragedies.
This should be everybody’s responsibility and not only Government, though it has a big role to play.
Abdou Rahman Jobe
Latri Kunda German