Mahdia Tragedy: Benn says Fire Service was not responsible for putting safety equipment in place


Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn on Tuesday sought to clarify that the Guyana Fire Service was not the body responsible for putting adequate fire prevention equipment in place at the Mahdia female dormitory.

Instead, he said it was those managing the facility who should have done so.

“I want to say not simply in the defence of the Guyana Fire Service… that the Guyana Fire Service, under protocols established, having given the reports in respect of doing improvements in relation to fire safety does not have the responsibility, or did not have the responsibility to do those things themselves.

“It is incumbent on the house owner or the owner of the building, or whoever is the agency which owns the building to put those things in for follow up inspections by the Guyana Fire Service,” Benn said during his contribution to the 2024 National Budget Debates.

Benn’s comments were made days after the final report of the Presidential Commission on Inquiry (CoI) into the Mahdia tragedy was handed over to President Dr. Irfaan Ali.

That report called into question the lapses of several individuals in the events that led up to the fire, during the conflagration and even after.

The report of the CoI concluded that the May 21, 2023 Mahdia dorm fire was an act of arson that claimed 20 young lives but said even a fully-equipped facility would not have yielded a different result.

Still, serious claims of dereliction of duty and neglect were laid squarely at the feet of Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Gregory Wickham and Ms. Annesta Douglas, the former Regional Education Officer for Region Eight.

“We consider it unfortunate and inauspicious that the Ryan Scott report which contained critical information in the interest of life and fire safety, was given scant regard by the CFO who admitted that of the 12 recommendations contained therein, his action was only taken in relation to that concerning fire hydrants,” the report noted.

Ryan Scott is a Fire Service Sub Officer in Mahdia.

A poorly-trained house supervisor was chided for her error in failing to contact the fire service promptly and failure to locate the keys to open the heavily grilled dormitory promptly.

Benn acknowledged those lapses too, stating that there were “inadequacies” including the delayed call to the Fire Service and the hindrances posed by the heavily-grilled building.

Now, however, Benn said the Fire Service has been working alongside dorms and schools particularly in the interior to have adequate fire prevention and fire safety equipment in place. Those include fire extinguishers, fireballs and fire alarms.

Outside of the Mahdia tragedy, Benn highlighted that Budget 2024 caters for the purchase of new assets for the fire service which has been grappling with a huge increase in the number of fires locally. He also said new fire stations are being built.

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