Recent Kigali fires raise concern over safety code of buildings

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On 1 May 2017 saa 01:02
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Recent fires in Kigali have raised questions about the safety status of many buildings in the city with both property managers and fire experts worried that they could be pointers to a much bigger problem.

Kigali has experienced two major blazes in the past two months; one at the Rwanda Correctional Services Prison in Kimironko and the other at Mateus shopping mall in the Capital’s commercial district.

Property managers are blaming a weak fire safety regime in the city.

Sources told Rwanda Today that municipal authorities who conduct routine fire safety audits on buildings, have been accused of only confirming the physical presence of fire-fighting equipment without checking whether it is in good working condition.

“There is a checklist where fire inspectors check if a new building has all the requirements, including fire fighting equipment. When they see the equipment in place they just tick without even testing,” said Charles Haba, the managing director of Century Real Estate. “Some of these equipment have never been serviced and the powder in the extinguishers has long expired. There is a need to ensure that the equipment actually works for effective responses in case of a fire.”

A number of public and private buildings, including hotels, shopping centres and residential houses have been destroyed in fires, in the past few years, partly because there was no one on site with fire-fighting skills or basic knowledge on how to use the fire-fighting equipment.

City authorities have in the past said that only half of the big commercial buildings met fire safety standards.

“You find that there is no one in many of the buildings who can effectively deal with a fire,” said Ignatius Mugabo from Mugolds International, a fire advisory and equipment vendor firm.

According to Mr Mugabo, many buildings in the city have no functional fire safety management systems, which coupled with the absence of a separate fire regulatory authority makes the city susceptible to fires.

“We have a very big problem on the regulatory side because Kigali is one of the few cities without a fire regulatory authority. Fire-fighting needs to be decentralised. But, now the police are given this task and they can’t cover the whole country,” said Mr Mugabo.

Mr Mugabo said 60 per cent of fires in Rwanda are caused by electrical failures, which are partly attributed to usage of substandard electrical appliances, including poor quality cables, which are often overloaded, resulting in their failure.

According to Mr Haba the lack of good quality plumbers and electricians has compounded the problem.

“We have a lot of quack plumbers and electricians in this country. Many come out of college before they are ready, so novices end up being contracted to work on buildings. We have had to go as far as Kenya to get good electricians,” said Mr Haba.

This problem extends to the regulators who also don’t have enough experience in the field, he said.

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The scene of a fire break out at the Gasabo Prison in Kigali on March 31, 2017. Photo| Cyril Ndegeya

Source:The East African