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Opinions of Friday, 28 July 2017

Columnist: Franklin Asare-Donkoh

Job 600 fire outbreak and the matters arising

Fire gutted a section of the 10th floor of the Job 600 Office Complex which houses Ghana’s legislatures on the 18th, July 2017. And, according to eyewitnesses, billowing smoke was detected from one of the offices around 5:00 p.m., when most of the staff members in the building had left.

The Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) personnel, who were reported to have arrived 30 minutes after a distress call, managed to put the situation under control around 7:00 p.m., with much difficulty as fire personnel stationed about 50 metres away from the building were seen moving to-and-fro one end of the building to another without knowing what to do.

The stationed personnel who were not able to douse the fire, however, placed an SOS call to other stations for help. At the end, three additional fire tenders were brought in before the situation which lasted for well over two hours was brought under control. Then what would have happened if the fire outbreak was on the high side?

Ghanaians like the proverbial vulture will always wait for a disaster to strike before they act. It was as if those of us who foresaw the Job 600 fire incident happening sooner than anticipated were prophets, because about three weeks before the 10th floor of the building caught fire, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Akan constituency in the Volta Region, Mr. Mumiru Adbul Aziz, a Structural Engineer, made a statement on the floor of the August House on the safety of Job 600 building and its occupants.

In that statement, Mr. Aziz raised some serious concerns such as the preparedness of the GNFS to fight fire in the said building when there is any eventuality, what the occupants of the building should do and not do in case of fire outbreak. A week later, I wrote an article with the caption: “Is Job 600 Building sitting on a time bomb? ….As GNF says it can’t fight fire above 5 floors of high rise buildings.” In that article, I also called for some concrete measures to be put in place to prevent or minimize fire outbreaks.

Mr Abdul Aziz, sounding the alarm bell regarding the safety measures deployed at Ghana’s law-making chamber as well as the Job 600 which serves as an office complex for MPs was necessary.

He was emphatic that Parliament lacked adequate fire safety measures in case of any fire outbreak. Thus calling on the appropriate authorities to step in to take MPs through fire drills and institute adequate measures to avert future calamity, especially on the 12-floor.

In the words of the Akan constituency lawmaker he said: “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.”

He further continued: “Maybe we might even walk on each other and that can be very serious because the sitting are in blocks so in case of fire this group passes left, take this exit and wait here for evacuation, you this other group on this left you also use this other route, get yourself comfortable here for evacuation but nothing of that sort is shown and I can assure you if there’s fire today in the chamber it is going to be serious…… in Job 600 today where I work, I work on the 11th floor, I don’t know what to do in case of fire.”

The concerns and fears raised in the MP’s statement were exactly what happened on the day the fire gutted the building. There was a commotion as MPs and others rushed to board elevators instead of using the staircase. Interestingly, a lady who saw the billowing smoke from one of the offices by sheer ignorance ran from the 10th floor to the frontage of the Administration Block to report the incident.

The question is: will this lady run all the way from 10th floor of the 12th storey- building to ‘ground zero’ to report an incident of fire outbreak while there were fire-extinguishers if she had been taken through fire drills? What about the members who were seen running ‘helter-skitter’ to save their lives?

I was told the fire detector alarm system in the building which was supposed to draw occupant’s attention to fire outbreak failed to sound. According to eyewitnesses, some of the occupants of the building came out only when the electricity supply to the building was cut off. Assuming the fire was intensive what would have happened?

Again, there were no records of occupants in the building at the time of the fire. So how could we have ascertained whether all the occupants in the building were out, or some were trapped somewhere if the outbreak had been intensive?

The way forward

For the building and its occupants to be on the safer side the following fire safety measures should immediately be put in place:

First, smoke and proper fire detector alarming systems should be reinstalled in the building to give early warning signs when there is any future eventuality.

Secondly, occupants of the building both MPs and staff members should be taken through fire safety drills by the GNFS so that they will readily know what to do when there is a fire outbreak in any part of the office complex in future.

Thirdly, exit routes or points should be created to avoid the repeat of what occurred on that fateful Tuesday, where people were seen using elevators instead of the staircase which is said to be the safest way of escaping fire outbreaks in high rise buildings.

Lastly, leadership should engage the services of fire warders to be stationed at each floor of the building, and also draw an effective evacuation plan for fire victims in future.

Conclusion

I believe what happened on the 10th floor of the Job 600 Office Complex should be a wake-up call for all of us to put in all the necessary measures to prevent future occurrences.