|Monday, 23 December 2002|
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Safety standards must be observed
Last Tuesday's fire that destroyed the 110-year old Adamalee Building on Gasworks Street in the heart of the Pettah in Colombo serves to remind us of the danger of fireworks at this time when revellers at Christmas and the New Year will be buying large quantities of this essential ingredient of celebration for the festivities.
Investigators are still trying to get to the bottom of the cause of the fire, and are yet to confirm whether it is a case of arson or an accident. Initially it was believed that the improper storage of the fireworks was the cause of the fire. But later there was a statement made by the investigating team that some sort of an explosive device containing TNT might have been used.
Whatever the cause 21 people lost their lives in the incident in clearly one of the worst tragedies of the type to be seen in the country.
Another worrying part of the tragedy are the whispered allegations that the city Fire Brigade arrived late and that the full resources available to put out major fires - the Sri Lanka Air Force firefighters and the Port Fire Brigade were not called in on time.
However the firefighters did manage to contain the fire in a manner that it did not spread to the other buildings in that tightly-packed part of the city.
No doubt the authorities will conduct an investigation into the matter to ascertain whether there were lapses on the part of the firefighting departments concerned and whether those factors compounded the tragedy.
The important matter at hand however, is that society and the authorities must be prepared to deal with these situations, particularly at a time when there will be lots of fireworks being stored, sold and burst during the season.
The urban areas of our country are increasingly dense, and there has been much unplanned development. Fire precautions are not the priority for many owners and the enforcement of the regulations have been lax in many instances.
The Adamalee building is of course very old and its structure may have been weak and an easy victim to fire and an explosion, but it is pertinent to ask whether countrywide we are prepared for emergencies such as this.
The Colombo Fire Chief Jayampathy Kannangara has sounded a warning saying that his forces have problems when facing major fires. Kannangara said he faced a shortage of water on Gasworks Street, as the number of Hydrants in the area was insufficient to feed the several fire engines that were needed to battle this inferno.
He has asked for more equipment including water carriers with a larger capacity so that he can deal with situations where there is insufficient water pressure in the city supply to douse major fires.
If the Colombo Fire Brigade is poorly equipped we wonder what the position of outstation cities are.
In the coming years we are likely to see more urbanization if current trends continue. More and more people are flocking to the Western Province, which has a higher standard of living than any other part of the country. This will increase the pressure on the existing infrastructure facilities and pack people in even tighter spaces in the city and it's suburbs.
This means the danger from fires, and the probable loss of lives could be even higher.
Therefore it is imperative that the authorities analyse what happened at the Adamalee Building and review the fire fighting and disaster management capacity of the city of Colombo as well as other urban areas of the country.
It is also vital that society in general be made aware of fire hazards. Public education on the subject will help both the general public and the authorities to enforce fire regulations in a stricter manner to enhance safety for all concerned.
In this season where we are bound to be exploding more firecrackers and fireworks than even previous years because of the ceasefire, it will be a good thing to keep in mind that safety standards must be observed to prevent serious disasters from occurring.
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