Deadly Mahdia fire: Dorm father recalls rescuing ‘crawling’ daughter, listening for son’s voice
Although faced with challenges entering the building, desperate attempts were made to rescue the students who were trapped in the Mahdia dormitory when the fire broke out in May, leaving 20 children dead.
This is according to dorm father, Steve Jerome, who was a first responder to the fire.
While he managed to rescue several girls including his daughter, who survived the fire, Jerome’s son was one of the 20 children who perished in the tragedy.
“I was hearing girls but I couldn’t see them because the smoke was really thick so I pulled myself out. I take the fire extinguisher but that wasn’t making sense, there was too much smoke.”
“I hear my daughter calling ‘daddy’. She was crawling from her mother (the house supervisor of the Mahdia female dormitory) room and I hold her by her legs and pulled her out.
“I was listening for my son voice but I couldn’t hear anything…I started to cry and scream because all I wanted was my son,” Jerome testified under oath.
Jerome was the first witness to give evidence to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the deadly Mahdia fire when public hearings commenced on Friday.
The Micobie resident, who was the caregiver/dorm father for the 71 boys housed at the Mahdia dormitory since 2018, told the Commission which is chaired by Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh that on the night before the fire, he heard a strange sound coming from the compound shortly after retiring to bed.
“I was in my room laying on my bed. Around 11 O’clock I heard a noise in the compound and as I come out of my room and run to the door, there was a sheep in the compound,” he said.
As such, Jerome said he returned to his room and about eight minutes later, he heard loud noise coming from the female dormitory.
“At that time I didn’t take anything serious because we had been encountering girls being possessed”, he said.
But about a minute later, he heard “loud trample” followed by screams.
“Mainly most of them were just screaming while some was calling for ‘Miss’, which would be the house supervisor,” he recalled, while being guided by attorney Keoma Griffith, who is leading evidence in the inquiry.
Upon looking, Jerome told the Commission that he noticed smoke coming from one of the doors of the female dormitory. As a result, he said he rushed back to this room and equipped himself with a fire extinguisher.
“At that time I got really worried and I ran down to the middle of the building where the double door was and I stamp on the door twice and the door flew open…There was smoke all over the place,” he said.
It was there that his efforts began in a bid to save the girls, some of whom, he said were trapped in rooms, which were grilled or behind doors which were not easily accessible.
And despite falling and being trampled on, Jerome said he was able to pull a few of the girls from the building. But there were others who he was just able to rescue.
“I went to the supervisor’s room. There was a girl there. She was there probably kneeling or standing on the bed…she was asking to come out of the building and I pushed my hand and I point to the direction where the door is located to come out…and she tried…,” Jerome said.
He added: “I held her by her face and I asked her not to move…because that was the only ventilated area and she could have got fresh oxygen to breathe”.
By that time, Jerome said persons in the neighbourhood had already gathered in their numbers and joined in the effort to rescue the girls.
“They begin to hit the grill to break it. One of the guy got in, half way in, and started to pull the girls.
“Some were out conscious, others weren’t moving,” Jerome told the Commission.
And eventually, the Guyana Fire Service arrived.
But all this time, Jerome said while he kept asking to see his son, he was unable to and was only told about his death during the emergency medical evacuation.
Mohamed Yacoob Mazaharally, a pilot attached to Air Service Limited, also testified before the inquiry.
Mazaharally, who captained one of the aircraft which was part of the medical evacuation described the scene at the Mahdia airstrip as “confusing.”
“The injured were screaming for their parents and I also saw one nurse trying to resuscitate a student…I could have smelt like burnt flesh…some of them were bleeding,” he said.
Public hearings into the inquiry continue on Monday.