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Guyana Fire Service not to blame

January 24, 2024

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, CMC – Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn Tuesday said that the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) was not the body responsible for putting adequate fire prevention equipment in place at the Mahdia female dormitory where 20 children died last year as a result of an early morning fire.

But he told legislators during the debate on the GUY$1.146 trillion (One Guyana dollar=US$0.004 cents) national budget that those persons managing the facility should have done so.

“I want to say not simply in the defence of the Guyana Fire Service… that the Guyana Fire Service, under protocols established, having given the reports in respect of doing improvements in relation to fire safety does not have the responsibility, or did not have the responsibility to do those things themselves.

“It is incumbent on the house owner or the owner of the building, or whoever is the agency which owns the building to put those things in for follow up inspections by the Guyana Fire Service,” Benn said .

A Commission of Inquiry into the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory found that cited Fire Chief, Gregory Wickham, for dereliction of duty, noting that he had failed to give priority to a report about poor fire safety at the dormitory, which he received from the Sub-Officer in Charge of the Mahdia Fire Station, Ryan Scott, less than three months before the inferno.

The report which was recently handed over to President  Ifraan Ali, said Scott had inspected the dormitory on February 7, 2023, compiled and dispatched a report to Wickham in which he identified several fire safety weaknesses at that State-owned facility, including a complete absence of any fire prevention systems such as – fire detection and alarm systems, exit signs and smoke detectors.

Home Affairs Minister in Guyana, Robeson Benn. (CMC Photo)

The report also noted that there were only three fire extinguishers provided in the buildings and grills were seen on all the windows.

The COI report concluded that the May 21, 2023 fire was an act of arson, but said even a fully-equipped facility would not have yielded a different result.

The Inquiry found that the fire was intentionally set hours after a female student had threatened to burn down the dormitory because her cellular phone had been taken away from her in keeping with the rules of the facility.

A 15-year old girl has been charged with 20 counts of murder and she has been remanded to a juvenile holding facility pending trial.

In his contribution, Benn acknowledged the lapses noted in the report, stating that there were “inadequacies” including the delayed call to the Fire Service and the hindrances posed by the heavily-grilled building.

Benn said the Fire Service has been working alongside dorms and schools particularly in the interior to have adequate fire prevention and fire safety equipment in place. Those include fire extinguishers, fireballs and fire alarms.

During his contribution, Benn said efforts to boost fire prevention and protect lives will be accelerated as funds to acquire several pieces of modern firefighting equipment and construction of new fire stations are contained in the national budget for 2024.

He said that there has been an increase in fires, propelling the need for more investments in prevention.

In 2023, there was an 182 per cent increase in calls relating to fires − 1,480 calls in 2022 and 4,181 in 2023.

Vehicles, water carriers, and a new fireboat to complement the expansion of development in the maritime sector will be procured this year to augment the demand for fire prevention equipment.

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