Room can fill with smoke before the heat of a fire awakens you
Stabroek News
February 2, 2002

Dear Editor,

The horrible unnecessary death of Lachmee Kallicharran provides an opportunity for some fire precautionary attention that may well save innocent life in future.

Firstly it is well known abroad that the foam used in mattresses, pillows, settee chairs etc., give off poisonous cyanide fumes if they catch fire. Either throw them out of the window or leave the house before you become unconscious from the fumes, preferably the latter.

Often an enclosed room will fill up with smoke long before the heat of a fire awakens you. Hence it is essential that keys to grillwork, doors etc, are kept in one regular place where you can find them without seeing them. Crawl on the floor where the smoke is less. Ensure a guest knows where the keys are.

Fire separation is important especially in Guyana where our buildings are still mainly wooden. By law, the fire separation distance from the site boundary used to be a minimum 4 ft. ie., a minimum 8 ft. between neighbouring buildings. I understand that the CHPA some time ago increased this. I cannot find by what law but everywhere one can see buildings both commercial and domestic offending this basic requirement. Such separation is necessary not only to prevent the spread of fire but also to allow access to the fire brigade for fire fighting.

As our water supplies improve, fire hydrants should be resuscitated. Fire insurance companies for purely selfish reasons may be willing to "adopt" (and advertise on) fire hydrants as other businesses have "adopted" street signage. Can the fire brigade take a lead in this?

Last December in Peru, 300 people died in Capital City, Lima. I have seen youngsters attracted by the bright lights of one gas station in Guyana setting off serial fireworks on the gas station forecourt in the full view of listless/ignorant pump attendants and a security guard. Perhaps the oil companies would take a lead and do something about this.

In garment factories, dozens work in buildings with all windows barred. One employee told me that even the main exit door was locked during working hours because owners think that employees would steal their cloth etc. This is a tragedy waiting to happen.

I have been in a 3 storeyed textile/clothing store in Georgetown. There were about 60 customers in the store. All windows were barred. On the huge first floor (i.e. the floor above the ground floor), I saw about 50 customers/employees. Though I looked carefully, I could see no exit signage on the first floor and only one staircase at one end. Those stairs descended to the ground floor far from the main exit. A fire on the ground floor under or even near the stairs will convert the 1st floor and possibly the 2nd floor into an inescapable holocaust.

Alcoholic spirits are kept in many instances without a licence. Spirits are highly flammable. If there is no licence, how does anyone ensure that the spirits are kept in a safe, fire resistant store? Do licensed premises have such fire resistant storage separated from where the patrons congregate?

I applaud the initiative (Fire Brigade, T&HD or the Captain?) whereby road tankers carrying gasoline can no longer get on ferry boats. But I have seen such road tankers delivering gasoline from the road where no one can stop passersby smoking and with open buckets catching leakage from the hose connections. In Guadalajara City, Mexico the result of a careless road tanker delivery was 200 horrible deaths and countless injuries.

Lumberyards with potential for high intensity fires are patently unregulated, instead of greater fire separation for such vulnerable sites, they actually store lumber on the roadway.

Hotels are proliferating, is it impertinent to ask when was the last fire evacuation drill with roll call etc, at the Pegasus or at the Tower? Is there a Fire Brigade programme to inspect hotels, licensed and unlicensed dance halls, shops and other places where large numbers of the public may gather in an enclosed space, for proper means of escape and other fire precautions? Is anyone ever prosecuted or closed down?

The Georgetown Fire Brigade is hopelessly sited. They lose a vital 2 or 3 minutes negotiating the crowds and traffic in front of their station/headquarters. They are eminently moveable if only because their site is most valuable.

Finally, I wonder what has happened to the Fire Advisory Board created by the Fire Prevention Act enacted in British Guiana on 10 July, 1954 whose duty inter alia is to ""advise the (Home Affairs) Minister on all questions pertaining to the prevention of fires and matters incidental thereto" section 4(a) Chapter 22:01 Laws of Guyana. I can't find this Board anywhere.

Yours faithfully,

Shahabudin McDoom