The call to be proactive

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A few years ago, a fire quickly raged through one of Jeddah’s schools killing two teachers. The regional governor, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, stated that he “received the news of the fire while I was inside the governorate in Makkah attending a meeting. I rushed immediately to Jeddah to see the incident for myself.”

More recently, the main terminal of the Al Haramain train at Jeddah was consumed by another fire that rendered the station inoperable. Although the loss of lives was minimal in both situations, the fact is that even one lost life should be enough to wake up the relevant authorities over the need to be more proactive.

Today there are thousands of schools in the various regions of this country, some in a very dilapidated state, that need a closer inspection in terms of fire hazards. With no standardized building code, many of the electrical systems installed should be suspect. Would now not be the perfect time for the Civil Defense authorities across the country to implement a series of actions, steps that will work to minimize the chance of such unfortunate events occurring again?

The lament of the authorities that fire hazard awareness campaigns are often met with a lukewarm response is only natural from a public that has little exposure to the work of these men in brown. And if our friends at the Civil Defense Forces are at a loss as to how to go about it, may I suggest the following as an immediate remedy:

A. Group schools into smaller parcels of zonal inspection within each region.

B. Set up inspection teams comprising of qualified fire fighting inspectors.

C. Begin inspection visits to each establishment within their zone of responsibility.

D. Insist that the landlord or the school owner is in tow with the inspection team and is taking notes.

E. Verify the access and availability of an adequate number of fire extinguishers, and check to see if they have been periodically serviced.

F. In larger school buildings, check for the presence of fire fighting sprinklers in different classrooms.

G. Look for prominent displays of emergency exit signs in all areas.

H. Physically tear down all metal bars across all classroom windows. These are an aberration in institutes of learning.

I. Remove all chains wrapped and padlocked around the handles of exit doors.

J. Count all emergency exits, ensuring an adequate number for the building occupants.

K. Demand that fire alarms be installed on each floor, accessible to young and old in case of a real emergency.

L. Examine electrical junction and distribution boxes for safety and electrical cables security. Power outlets and power-consuming machinery should also be tested.

M. Ensure that street access to these buildings is adequate to accommodate fire-fighting equipment in case of a real emergency.

N. Set up a time frame for the landlord/owner to perform the necessary refurbishment or repairs within the establishment. If he or she fails, close the school down! No “wasta” necessary.

O. Prior to the opening of schools in the fall, run several fire drills with the staff and teachers of these establishments.

P. Conduct a media campaign to educate the children as well as their parents about faulty practices at school, such as playing with fire.

This I believe is the proper way to perform an effective awareness campaign. Not the passing out of leaflets at traffic stops, or some department speaker droning on about the past achievements of the bureau in a crowded lecture hall!

As I see it then, this should be the mission of our Civil Defense. An American once told me, “Tariq, you people are not actors but a bunch of reactors. You wait for something to happen before you begin to take action.” Should not our Civil Defense officials act more proactively in the inspection of many of the institutions that were built years ago and under no specific building code or standards? Would that be too much to ask for? The price of neglecting such issues is often beyond any measurable proportions.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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