Strategies to curb the rampant fires in Ugandan buildings

Mar 09, 2020

It is high time we had an honest discussion about prevention of fires in buildings. These fires cause death, colossal damage to property and destroy people’s businesses


By Stephen Asiimwe

The fire in the Gayaza High School dormitory was a frightening thought for everyone especially Parents. Thankfully, there were no causalities. However, there have been many fires in buildings across the country.

It is high time we had an honest discussion about prevention of fires in buildings. These fires cause death, colossal damage to property and destroy people's businesses. My experiences are based on what I have seen done in other countries that have strong fire management procedures that Uganda should make normal.

First and foremost, Fire drills should be carried out every 3 - 6 months in public buildings. The Cambridge dictionary defines a Fire drill as a situation in which people practise what they must do in order to leave a building safely if there is a fire.

Fire drills will involve timing how fast it will take for the building to be evacuated, executing the evacuation plan and designate the fire Marshalls (i.e. those responsible for making sure everyone has left the building) on a regular basis.

A previous employer, a global accounting firm based in Luxembourg, carried them out randomly every 3-6 months. These don't cost anything except a little company time. Sometimes, it felt annoying and unnecessary. However, it's well worth it given the potential risk.

Secondly, Smoke Detectors should be made compulsory. Smoke detectors are actually inexpensive.

For starters, these need to be made compulsory for all public buildings. Homes should also be mandated to install them within a two year period especially those in cities. Most smoke detectors are battery-powered.

The alternative is a hard-wired smoke detector. This hard-wired detector requires less maintenance. However, given the country's challenges to reliable electricity, the battery option might be the better option.

However, the batteries need to be checked regularly to see the batteries are working.

The battery or hard-wired detectors are either ionisation or photoelectric smoke detectors. Ionisation smoke detectors are known to work better with flaming fires—these are fires with aggressive, open flames. Their effectiveness with other types of fires, such as smouldering fires, isn't as great.

Since many smouldering fires fill the room with dangerous fumes and smoke way before progressing to the open-flame stage, these type of detectors tend to be better at early detection. Hence, it's recommended that both types are installed as one can't predict what type of fire will be in the building/house.

As they are inexpensive, it is prudent to install both ionisation and photoelectric smoke detectors. Installing smoke detectors should be seen as normal as installing a window/door in a house.  Fire alarms are more advanced. The fire alarms act on the fire. These in addition to the smoke alarms are highly recommended for storied commercial and office buildings.

Thirdly, install Fire extinguishers. These should also be compulsory in all public buildings. Homes should also be encouraged to own 1 - 2 units. The cost of losing everything - human lives, property and businesses justifies having them.

In addition, Uganda needs to properly fund the Fire Service: There is a general assumption that the fire brigade service is very substandard. The response tends to be slow and many times too late. The Police where the fire brigade falls is underfunded. A closer look at the finances and training of the fire brigade needs to be reviewed.

Lastly, take out Fire Insurance. Taking out fire insurance for buildings and their contents is advisable for building owners and occupants respectively.

The local markets which have suffered numerous fires should have their associations take out fire insurance. This reduces their economic risk if a fire occurs. However, the main focus on fire management in Uganda really should be the first four points mentioned above.      

Accidents will always occur. Many times fires are caused by maliciousness of individuals. Uganda needs to stop the chain of fires occurring, people making losses, solutions are discussed and things are forgotten. Uganda cannot continue to take fire management lightly. It requires vigilance and result-oriented action from everyone.

In conclusion, regular fire drills, use of smoke detectors, easily accessible fire extinguishers, a better-funded fire service and fire insurance will greatly curb the rampant fires in Ugandan buildings.


Technical information: Alarm New England

The writer is a former highways engineer that worked in the United Kingdom. He has been working in Luxembourg in Investments & Accounting for over 10 years.

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