FIRE SAFETY IN LEARNING INSTITUTIONS
Fire tragedies have over the years led to loss of lives, disruption of livelihoods, loss of biological diversity, air pollution and loss of assets.
From our homes, to institutions and to public places fire safety cannot be ignored. How well prepared are we as individuals and institutions? Fire tragedies have over the years led to loss of lives, disruption of livelihoods, loss of biological diversity, air pollution and loss of assets. But can the fires be prevented from occurring and what has not been done right fire incidences recur with loss of lives? Kenyan learning institutions and more so the boarding schools have been on the receiving end of fire tragedies where young lives are lost due to circumstances that could have been prevented.
Fire occurs when three things come together fuel, heat and oxygen, this have been referred to as the fire triangle. A fire tetrahedron incorporates the fourth element which is the sustaining chemical reaction. Fire spread occurs in four different ways direct burning, convection, conduction and radiation. There is need to ensure that materials that would be a source of fuel and are not been used are to be disposed, hazardous materials clearly labelled stored at designated area that are of solid construction and reducing the storage to a minimum.
Over the years incidences of fire have occurred with some been attributed to arson and electrical faults. Bombolulu Girls Secondary School lost 26 lives in 1998, Nyeri High School lost 4 lives in 1999, Kyanguli Mixed secondary school lost 67 lives in 2001, Endarasha boys lost 2 lives in 2010, Asumbi Girls Boarding School lost 2 lives in 2012, Stephjoy Boys High school lost 2 lives in 2015 and Moi Girls School lost 9 lives in 2017.The examples depict a grim picture of how preventable fire accidents could have saved 112 lives. This begs the question, what is not been done right?
Construction design of classes and dormitories is an aspect that should not be overlooked and safety must be incorporated from the inception of the project to completion to ensure that safety measures are integrated and in the event of an emergency there will be no obstacles preventing swift evacuation of the students before the situation escalates. Some of the learning institutions have grilled windows, lock students from outside, non-provision of emergency exit, lack of firefighting equipment, lack of training on raising alarm and deciding on fighting fire of flight and overcrowding of dormitories worsens the situation. An emergency evacuation plan must be developed and communicated to all, otherwise it doesnâ€™t exist.
Drills are important to check on the awareness and response. Behavior and attitude change among the learners need to be investigated as arson has been attributed to some of the fire incidences. Security need to be step up to monitor the delinquent juveniles who for flimsy reasons end up setting the dormitories on fire destroying lives of families. With advancement in technology installation of closed-circuit television will act as a great deterrent to some of the undesirable behaviors exhibited by students.
The Kenyan Government has made strides towards ensuring safety of learning institutions and workplaces through Safety standard manual for schools in Kenya (2008) and Factories and other Places of Work (Fire Risk Reduction) Rules,2007. Safety standard manual for schools in Kenya (2008) states that evacuation maps should be posted at every entrance and exit to buildings, classrooms, enclosed hallways, stairways and offices; fire drills conducted at least twice per term; all doorways in the dormitories should be at least 5 feet wide and opening outwards and never locked from outside when learners are inside; a door at each end of the dormitory with an additional middle one clearly labelled "Emergency Exit"; windows without grills and easy to open and fire extinguishing equipment placed at fire exist with fire alarms fixed at accessible points. The guidelines are well outline and if they were to be followed to the latter then more young lives could be saved in the event of a fire incident. But do the learning institutions really implement on the guidelines?
Factories and other Places of Work (Fire Risk Reduction) Rules, 2007 is much more detailed with specifics to be adhered to. The Director of occupational Health and safety authorizes fire safety auditors in writing to undertake a fire safety audit according to the rules, the auditor systematically inspects the workplace and gives recommendations on what is to be improved as well as acknowledging aspects that have been implemented.
The rules states that the emergency exit door should be distinctively and conspicuously marked in green letters of at least 15 cm in height, emergency exit route clearly marked in writing or signs indicating the direction of exit and a drawing or map showing evacuation routes posted in prominent positions in work places. Fire drills to be conducted at least once in a period of twelve months, identification of a location where workers can assemble in the event of fire, suitable means of alerting workers in event of fire which should be known by all, fire extinguishers shall be mounted at a height of not less than 60 cm from the floor, inspection and testing firefighting appliances at least once every twelve months and ensuring all cylinders for firefighting appliances are examined and tested at least every five years and the test shall include hydraulic pressure test.
There is need for all learning institutions to develop a fire policy, communicate to all, implemented and review from time to time to ensure it is effective and efficient.
Article first published on LinkedIN