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Ministry, governors ‘fail to protect schools from fire disasters’

Fire fighters are warning the Ministry of Education and county governors of the continued risk to lives in boarding schools because of laxity in implementing fire fighting and prevention measures by teachers and county government officials.

They want headteachers to buy and install fire extinguishers, install double-doors in dormitories that swing outwards and reconstruct windows so that any child can use to escape quickly from a dormitory fire.

On their part, county governments should acquire more fire engines, fire-fighting equipment, train and employ more fire fighters and expand fire stations to sub-county levels.

Francis Liech, the Secretary General, Kenya National Fire Brigades Association regrets that he has proposed to the Education Cabinet Secretary several times to include the fire safety in the curriculum. This will also give the country more manpower in fire. “European countries train their children on fire safety from nursery school; why not Kenya?” he posed.

Liech said dormitories should have sprinkler heads which have points with mercury that bursts to pour out water in case of a fire. “Sprinkler heads extinguish ninety nine per cent of fires. With this equipment in schools, it will help save lives and property,” he said. He spoke as fires continue to devastate boarding schools.

Ten days ago, more than 200 pupils of Etono Boarding School in Bomwagamo, Nyamira spent the night in the cold after a huge fire gutted down their two dormitories. Nothing was salvaged as everything went up in flames. Efforts by the Nyamira County fire brigade to put out the fire failed as the fire engine arrived too late.

“We responded immediately but we could not do much as we did not have enough extinguishing equipment at our disposal,” headteacher Evans Ombati told journalists.

The County Education team led by Director of Education Nelson Sifuna said a detailed report on the incident would be given after investigations. However, area MCA Charles Barongo said the county government emergency response team needs to be quick in responding to such disasters.

“In most cases, they responds late when damage has already occurred. We urge the county government to make sure it responds faster during such incidents,” Barongo said. Students killed On January 25, a dormitory housing more than 60 girls at Nyabola Girls High School in Kasipul Sub-County was razed when a fire broke out while students were in class.

Principal Kenas Owala said there was no loss of property as students and workers managed to salvage their belongings. Several students suffered shock and were taken to hospital for treatment. Homa Bay County Police Commander Marius Tum said the cause of the fire was not immediately established but enquiries had started.

In 2016, over 100 public schools were hit by a wave of fires in dormitories and other school properties. The cause of the fires was attributed to arsonists, mainly students. Last year, a fire tragedy at Moi Girls High School, Nairobi killed nine students while 16 were hospitalised.

The then Cabinet Secretary for Education, Dr Fred Matiang’i said arsonists were behind the cause of the fire and a student was thereafter charged with setting fire to the school.

Reasons believed to be fuelling fires in schools include management wrangles, fears over school audit queries, school-based programmes for teachers and examination cheating cartels. But according to Liech, a retired fire fighter, the main cause is indiscipline. “It starts with the security docket in Kenya.

For instance, when police were evicting people from the Mau Forest a few years ago, they used fire to burn people’s houses so the children know a quick solution to a problem is setting a fire,” he said.

Slow fire disaster response, inadequate equipment, poor training and too few fire fighters worsen the problem. “We have proposed to extend training for fire fighters from three to nine months. This will help fire brigades to be well equipped as most people respond to fires with no positive minds. Many of our fire fighters cannot even identify the different types of fire.

In Britain, training takes twelve months,” he said. Mid last month, the new Cabinet Secretary for Education, Amina Mohamed, donated food and bedding to Zaidi Ya Dreams Children’s Family in Ruiru Township. The home, which provides abandoned, abused and neglected children with a safe and loving environment for 20 children between aged one to seven years, was gutted down after a power outage.

The administrator of the children’s home, Amanda Donhue, relocated the children to her private residency in Loresho estate in Nairobi pending rebuilding of the home.

Mohamed donated 14 mattresses, bed sheets, and an assortment of food items when she visited the stressed children. Donhue said the staff had just enough time to evacuate all the children and themselves from the building on fire.

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