Mahdia Fire Station received new water bowser, other equipment after dormitory tragedy

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Even if the Mahdia Fire Station had the required firefighting equipment such as breathing apparatus and cutting tools when the fire broke out at the Mahdia school dormitory in May, the result would not have been any different.

This is according to Officer-in-Charge, Ryan Scott who said that firefighting efforts were delayed since they were summoned about 15 minutes after the fire started.

“When we received the call and we arrived on the scene, the building (dormitory) was fully engulfed in flame.

“That clearly shows that the fire was burning for between to 15 to 20 minutes. So we arriving with all the equipment that was needed at the set time, the results would have been the same due to the fact that we had a late call.

“The call was late and there ain’t much we could have done,” he said.

Scott made this revelation on Wednesday as he accompanied the Chairman of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI), Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh and Commissioners Dr Kim Kyte-Thomas and Derick John as they inspected a number of key facilities in Region Eight.

The purpose of the visit was for the Commissioners to get a first-hand look at the structures and seek clarity of evidence given by witnesses who testified before the Commission.

Among the sites visited was the Mahdia Fire Station.  There, Scott indicated to the Commissioners that a new water bowser was assigned to the fire station a day after the fire.

He said they also acquired a number of firefighting tools including two breathing apparatus, a cutting disc, a jaws of life, sledge hammer, power saw and a firearm axe, all of which they hadn’t prior to the tragedy.

“Those are part of equipment that would be used to break in, when you meet at a fire scene. They allow easier access if you need break in tools,” Scott said.

Additionally, Scott said that the building is being enhanced and a well that can hold approximately 6,000 gallons of water was dug in the compound, to ensure water is always available to respond to emergencies.

“The water bowser use more water and due to the dry season the trenches we would usually use to uplift water dried up. We will pump water into it to ensure it is full in case of emergency,” Scott noted.

When he testified before the CoI, Scott had indicated that just months before the fire he told his superiors about the absence of the firefighting tools.

At that time, the station’s lone 12-year-old tender had a number of deficiencies but he said little to no action was taken.

Chairman of the Presidental CoI into the Mahdia tragedy, Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh (center) led a team to Mahdia on Wednesday. He was accompanied by Commissioner attorney Dr Kim Kyte-Thomas (to his right) and Derick John (left). (Photo: News Room/November 1,2023)

Other sites inspected during the visit included a trench which firefighters sourced water from on the night of the fire, the now cleared area that once housed the female dormitory, the Mahdia hospital and the secondary school.

In the testimonies, the Commission heard that the building was grilled and the doors were locked from inside, causing first responders to experience difficulty in accessing the building. There were also no fire prevention tools and mechanisms in place.

To address this, the Commissioners were informed on Wednesday that following the tragedy measures were put in place by the authorities to ensure that the male dormitory which is situated right aback the destroyed building and the dining hall are equipped with fire prevention tools such as fire extinguishers and smoke detectors.

While over at the Mahdia Hospital, the Commission engaged doctors. They related that they now are in possession of a wider variety of medications along with more oxygen, to enhance their response should any other incident of this nature arise.

Before they wrapped up the visit to the Region Eight community, the Commissioners met with relatives of the deceased as well as the survivors, mainly to determine how they were coping.

In keeping with the Terms of Reference, the CoI is required to inquire into and report on everything leading up to the dormitory fire as well as the cause of the fire.

They will also investigate and report on what actions were taken to provide care, medical attention, and support to the injured and deceased and their relatives, in a timely manner.

Recommendations are also expected from the commission, which will include necessary measures to prevent a reoccurrence of such tragedies.

Following a one-month extension, the Commission has until November month end to wrap up its work and present a report with the findings to President Dr Irfaan Ali.

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