Compliance with fire safety rules still a challenge

Property worth more than Rwf60 million was reduced to ashes after a fire gutted renowned Bambino Super City, a recreational and children park in Gasabo District, last month.
Fire fighters put out a fire in Nyabugogo last year. Most public buildings in Kigali still lack fire-fighting equipment as per a 2015 Ministerial Order. (File photo)
Fire fighters put out a fire in Nyabugogo last year. Most public buildings in Kigali still lack fire-fighting equipment as per a 2015 Ministerial Order. (File photo)

Property worth more than Rwf60 million was reduced to ashes after a fire gutted renowned Bambino Super City, a recreational and children park in Gasabo District, last month.

The fire engulfed the bar and restaurant section of the recreational park located on the Kigali-Rwamagana highway.

 

Prior to that incident, fires were no longer a common occurrence in the country as was the case a few years ago.

 

Following a spate of fire incidents that rocked the country in a period spanning months, government came up with a raft of measures, including new regulations.

 

That was in July 2014.

The regulations, issued by the Prime Minister, sought to prevent fire outbreaks in public buildings; public spaces, national parks, forests, as well as transport and storage facilities.

Public buildings in the country were effectively given six months to comply with the new fire safety rules with the deadline lapsing in December of the same year.

Under the instructions, public buildings or other public places were required to obtain and install the following gadgets: a fire alarm system with an alarm bell on each floor, smoke detectors and sprinklers on each floor, a fire extinguisher every 50 metres on each floor, hose reels on each floor, closed circuit television cameras and a control room, and a lightning conductor.

The law requires that the facilities and installations would be inspected every three years by law enforcement agencies, with view to sanction non-compliers.

Following the lapse of the deadline, the Ministry for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDMAR) released a report indicating that compliance levels had gone up.

Laxity eats into the law

However, complacency has since set in, in what has largely been blamed on lax supervision and enforcement of the rules.

During a spot check by The New Times, recently, it was noticed that a number of buildings were now reluctant to observe the rules. In a number of buildings visited, it was found that some of the equipment, such as fire extinguishers, had long expired and required replacement, hose reels were visibility faulty, while some were simply not in place.

Some building managers who spoke off record admitted that some gadgets, such as closed circuit television cameras, had gone for months without being serviced, while others were not working altogether.

Many had no tangible reasons for lack of compliance, with some citing little or no consequences in case of non-compliance.

In an interview with The New Times, Ignatius Mugabo, managing director of Mugolds International, a private firm that specialises in fire and risk management, said that an independent review conducted across the Kigali city by his firm, had also arrived at similar conclusions: building owners were back into their comfort zone of non-compliance.

Mugabo said there seems to be a culture of reacting to fire incidents as opposed to being proactive.

He blamed the state of affairs largely on the lack of a department within the City of Kigali that oversees issues and aspects of fire preparedness in the city.

“That is what we come across almost every day in our work. As long as the City of Kigali does not have capacity to deal with this issue, with trained personnel, it’s bound to happen. The city should stop relying on the Police. The safety of the infrastructure should be paramount to the city authorities,” he said.

Noting that building owners and managers are always likely to be reluctant to comply with the rules, Mugabo said the City authorities ought to acquire the necessary capacity to follow-up and enforce standards.

“Unless someone takes it upon themselves to enforce the law, we are always going to have such disasters,” he warned.

He warned that lack of basic tools to put off a fire can result in a costly incident.
Currently, MIDIMAR is in charge of inspection.

The acting director of Risk Reduction and Preparedness at the ministry, Alphonse Hishamunda, said the department regularly conducts inspections with a similar exercise scheduled for Nyamasheke District around this time.

However, the ministry does not have powers to enforce compliance or penalise non-complaint building owners.

Regular inspections

After conducting inspection, the team compiles a report which is then shared with the governors of the respective provinces who are, in turn, expected to communicate to the establishments in question, he said.

Hishamunda, however, said powers to sanction fall on Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA).

Commenting on the role of RHA in the inspections and enforcement of fire safety rules, Didier Sagashya, its director general, said they carry out the tasks in partnerships with local governments, the Police and other stakeholders.

“We have a joint inspection team that includes the Police and other institutions. Currently, we are still raising awareness among members of the public to understand why and how to comply with fire safety standards,” he said.

He noted that there are penalties provided for in the Ministerial Order on Urban Planning and Building Regulations whereby non-compliant facilities are fined in accordance to their categories.
“There are penalties provided in the 3rd annex of the Ministerial Order on Urban Planning and Building Regulations. The annex is about “Building faults and sanctions.” Non-compliant structures are fined in accordance to their categories. For example, incorrect equipment relating to fire prevention is fined Rwf2 million for categories three and four,” he said.

Districts are the ones mandated to administer the said penalties.

City of Kigali officials say they carry out regular inspection at city buildings with the most recent conducted in March and April.

City of Kigali spokesperson Bruno Rangira told The New Times that in the latest inspection, a total of 169 buildings were given recommendations. Currently, he said, they are conducting a follow-up inspection where penalties will be applied in case of non-compliance.

“Inspection of buildings is conducted on a regular basis. In March and April this year, together with various institutions, we conducted inspection of the buildings that host many people. In total, they were 169 and each of them was given specific recommendations on what should be done. Presently, we are conducting a follow-up inspection and penalties will be applied, as stipulated by the Building Code,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mugabo said insurance companies too have a role in ensuring compliance by requiring that buildings they were insuring meet minimum fire safety regulations.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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