Lessons from Kenya airport fire

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'Massive' fire shuts Kenya's international airport in Nairobi

ON AUGUST 7, 2013 there was a dark cloud in the skies of Africa when Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) went up in flames.
It was indeed sad reading that one of the busiest airports on the continent suffered such a misfortune.
Though not privy to the details of the fire, it is generally commendable that the Kenyan authorities contained it within reasonable time and, above all, for having safely evacuated everyone without any injuries or deaths recorded.
This is not to say that all went well. Definitely like everything else in life there are things that could have been done better, but that is not the subject of this article.
This article is meant to take advantage and prompt my countrymen and women to take time and reflect on fire safety in our own backyards. Fire safety is like insurance. People avoid it at their own peril.
I would like to encourage everyone that “targeting zero harm isn’t easy, but achieving it is worthwhile”. What happened in Kenya at JKIA could easily have happened in any other country, Zambia included. The topic of fire safety is, therefore, very important and everyone is encouraged to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to this issue.
Two questions as I write this article arise, and I would like to throw them out there; are we doing enough to prevent fire outbreaks and, secondly, are we prepared to safely extinguish and evacuate in case of a fire?
These questions should hit home hard with the government, its agencies (fire brigade), private sector and more importantly facility managers.
The first line of defence in terms of fire safety is fire prevention, and in case of a fire safe evacuation. There are a few things to note when dealing with fire safety.
Fire safety refers to precautions that are taken to prevent the likelihood of a fire that may result in death, injury or property damage.
It also implies to alert those in a building to the presence of an uncontrolled fire in the event one occurs, better enable those threatened by a fire to survive in and evacuate from the affected areas, or to reduce the damage caused by a fire.
Fire safety measures include those that are planned during the construction of a building or implemented in structures that are already standing, and those that are taught to occupants of the building.
It should be noted that building owners and/or their agents are responsible for building occupants, visitors and contractors who enter their site for their safety. Everyone in a building needs to know the risks and hazards and, most importantly, familiar with the safety plans and procedures.
This can be done through visitor and contractor inductions as well as employee inductions.
Fire safety should be included in the design stage of buildings. Enforcement agencies through building surveyors must also ensure minimum standards are met through a process called design compliance.
It is the duty of property and facility managers to maintain property and conduct themselves in accordance with the provisions of the fire safety codes. This is done by having occupants and operators of the building being aware of the applicable regulations and advice.
This is a major aspect of facility management, and if your facility manager is not keen on fire safety, I would be thinking twice as regards their continued employment!
Property owners and/or their agents must maintain correct fire exits and appropriate exit signage (exit signs should be able to work even with power failure)
Property owners and/or their agents must place and maintain the correct type of fire extinguishers in easily accessible places.
Property owners and/or their agents must properly store and use hazardous materials that may be needed inside the building.
Property owners and/or their agents must ensure flammable materials are prohibited in certain areas of the building.
Property owners and/or their agents must maintain fire alarm systems for detection and warning of fire. They must maintain a high level of training and awareness of occupants and users of the building to avoid obvious mistakes.
Property owners and/or their agents should carry out fire drills at regular intervals throughout the year.
I guess the moral of the story is that we all think about fire safety, ask the questions, are we doing enough to prevent fires? And in the event that a fire breaks out, are we well equipped to fight it?
Are we well prepared to safely evacuate? It is important that regular testing and tagging of equipment and fire drills are carried out. Fire enforcement agencies should also step up inspections on a regular basis and do their part in preventing and combating fire outbreaks.
The law should also be stiffened to prosecute those who are found negligent. This will help save lives and property.
The scope of fire safety is too vast to comprehensively cover in this article, but my aim is to get you all thinking and to act proactively to be able to prevent, control and safely evacuate should what happened at JKIA, god forbid, happen to you.
The author is a facility services professional with experience in the industry  and is based in Perth, Australia.

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