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Opinions of Friday, 30 June 2017

Columnist: todaygh.com

Is Job 600 building sitting on a time bomb?

Fire is said to be ‘a very good servant, but a bad master’. As long as fire is under our control, it serves a lot of useful purposes for us, but, once it goes out of control, it can create a lot of destruction. However, despite the presence of fire safety measures, the occurrence of accidents is often times inevitable.

Ghana is currently witnessing lots of high rise buildings including the 13 storey Job 600 Building with little or no adequate measures put in place in anticipation to fight fire if one occurs.

The refurbished Job 600 building which serves as offices for members of Ghana’s lawmakers was inaugurated on the 6th of November, 2015 by former President, H. E. John Dramani Mahama.

The 13-storey building with a 3-Bay Tower block is divided into East and West Wings, the facility which provides offices for 252 out of 275 Members of Parliament (MP) is said to be on a time bomb waiting to explode anytime soon.

The office complex comprises 192 standard offices, 48 standard plus offices, and 12 prime offices. In addition, there are 12 meeting rooms, 10 Committee Rooms and other ancillary facilities.

Considering the huge amount of money sunk into the construction of this remarkable and memorable edifice, it is heart breaking to learn that the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) has no clue as to how to fight any fire outbreak beyond the fifth floor of Job 600 or any high rise building in the country if there should be any.

The open confession by the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of GNFS, Divisional Officer, Mr Prince Billy Anaglatey, on Tuesday June 27 2017 that his outfit is currently incapable of dealing with fires in high-rise buildings is frightening, considering the current increase in high-rise buildings in Ghana.

Following the recent fire that gutted the Grenfell Tower in London, even though Britain Fire Service had all the sophisticated gadgets used in controlling fire, they still had problems fighting the fire for days to bring the situation under control even in such a developed country. Folks only God knows what will happen in our part of the world if such a calamity should occur.

“Unfortunately, with the high-rise buildings that we have in Ghana now, some are as high as 20 floors and above, but the turntable ladder that the fire service has can take up to only the fifth floor, so what of the floors after the fifth floor?”

Dear reader, you can agree with me that thousand and one per cent that it will be more than difficult for the GNFS to fight such fires since we do not have all the necessary tools in fighting fire.

According to Mr Anaglatey, there are several facilities that need to be installed in high rise buildings to assist fire fighting and rescue in case of any emergency. “…So, if those high rise buildings do not have the facilities that will assist the fire fighters to get to floors above fifth floor, then I think we are in trouble” Gracious God it’s only in Ghana that you will have professionals talking like this.

Ghana is in serious trouble in the sense that, per the analogy of Mr. Anaglatey GNFS has no antidotes to the situation should it happen one day. “When we are able to get to the fifth floor we can only manage with our skills and expertise to get to the floors above that’ this is where the problem is”, he was reported to have said.

With all sincerity, this approach is not enough and appropriate considering the fact that life and property will be at risk. Another aspect of his conversation which I find interesting but sad was when he stated that “this is why the fire service has and will always continue to call on owners of such buildings to make sure they meet all the set standards. As an institution, we would appreciate if the owners of high rise buildings will strictly adhere to our fire safety regulations”.

Lack of enforcement of laws

There are laws and regulations governing putting up a building in the country with specialised institutions mandated to ensure that sanity prevails so the question then is how come people are allowed to put up such high-rise buildings without meeting the basic requirement?

From the information gathered, Town and Country Planning department in all the Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAs) has a committee in place which comprises a representative from GNFS who scrutinises building documents to ensure that all the things the PRO of GNFS was talking about are met before permit is granted.

So why have they sat unconcerned for all these high rising buildings to be sprung up before coming out to ‘cry wolf?

MPs’ fear

I’m less surprised about the cry of MP for Akan Constituency in the Volta Region Mr Muniru Abdul Aziz, sounding the alarm bell regarding the safety measures deployed at Ghana’s law-making chamber as well as the Job 600.

Mr Aziz was emphatic that Parliament lacks adequate fire safety measures in case of any fire outbreak. He thus called on the appropriate authorities to step in to take MPs through fire drills and institute adequate measures to avert future calamity, especially in the 12-floor office complex. given the fact that the Ghana National Fire Service has no hydraulics to enable them fight blazes in high rise buildings.

The Akan constituency lawmaker opined: “In my own estimation what I can say is that parliament is not ready (for any fire outbreak) because in case there is fire now in the chamber, the Speaker wouldn’t know where to pass, myself I wouldn’t know where to pass and I can assure you that there will be confusion.”