Ready to face the fire?
It is important for both big and small businesses to be prepared for a fire with a proper escape route, training and alarm systems. MARISKA MORRIS investigates
In April, a fire broke out in Braampark Office Park. in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. While no one was injured, ASP Fire CEO Michael van Niekerk says this fire is an example of the inability of companies and employees to prepare for and deal with fires effectively.
One of the first challenges companies face is acquiring the right equipment. According to ASP Fire – a fire-risk assessment company – equipping a building with fire extinguishers and fire-hose reels is the cheapest and most effective way to address the risk of a fire.
Every building in South Africa larger than 250 m2 is required to have at least one fire-hose reel per 500 m2 or part thereof. A fire hose is also required on every floor of a building. In addition, one 4,5-kg dry chemical powder fire extinguisher is required per
200 m2 or part thereof.
“Such fire-safety equipment is obviously useless if no one in the office knows how to use it, or if the location of the equipment is not clearly marked,” Van Niekerk notes. It is important to ensure all staff receive regular Level One firefighting training,
so that they are capable of managing a fire emergency, even in the absence of the appointed fire marshal.
Automatic fire-detection and alarm systems are essential to alerting employees of a fire. Regular emergency evacuation training also needs to be conducted to identify any possible flaws in the evacuation plan. Eyewitness News quoted an employee who worked in the Braampark Office Park: “We got stuck at the emergency door, which we couldn’t open.”
While no one was hurt during the incident, proper inspections and evacuation training could have drawn attention to the faulty emergency door. ASP Fire notes that safety training should ensure that everyone knows the escape route, all the emergency exits are clearly marked and emergency doors are not obstructed or blocked in any way.
According to Van Niekerk, local fire safety and emergency services bylaws state that an emergency evacuation plan needs to be drafted for every building in South Africa, and that these need to be practised at least once or twice a year. Yet, despite emergency planning, most companies still rely on good firefighting services, which can be a challenge in Africa.
Suraksha Mohun, product marketing manager at safety equipment company MSA Africa, experienced the lack of resources and infrastructure in firefighting services in Africa while in Kenya to provide training on MSA equipment.
“They do not, for example, have access to essential, let alone premium, firefighting equipment, or even compressors with which to fill SCBA systems. Apart from the obvious danger of first-degree burns, the long-term effects of smoke inhalation can result in numerous respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer,” says Mohun. These firefighters often use buckets of water to extinguish fires.
MSA Africa and non-profit organisation Africa Fire Mission donated an energy-efficient Bauer compressor, which can be used to fill self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs), to firefighters in Machakos Country, Kenya.
While South African fire services also struggle with the affordability of equipment, a lack of knowledge and poor infrastructure, legislation ensures that they provide better services than those found in many other African countries.
“Fortunately, South African legislation ensures compliance within the safety industry. In some other regions of Africa, there is no legislation to enforce compliance and therefore the provision of safety is taken lightly, or is not a prerequisite,” says MSA Africa.
Companies should be prepared for a worst-case scenario by acquiring the right equipment, implementing an evacuation plan and providing a safe environment for staff, or they risk the same fate as Braampark Office Park.