Market fires are preventable; Assemblies must sit up
Fire prevention is a shared responsibility, and if indeed market fires are to be prevented then a big responsibility lies on the shoulders of the custodians of the markets – the Assemblies.
They must complement the efforts of the Fire Service to end or reduce market fires in the country.
The first major market fire gutted and caused extensive damage to Makola Market where wares running into millions of Ghana cedis were destroyed in 1992.
The Fire Service thereafter constituted Market Fire Prevention Teams, which were responsible for fire safety education in the markets, conducting risk assessment and market patrols in all markets.
These annual risk assessment reports are submitted to the local Assemblies to implement the recommendations, but the reports only gather dust on their shelves.
Until 2013 after a series of preventable fire outbreaks in markets across the country, the Government engaged the services of experts from the United States of America to investigate the ritual fire outbreaks.
Expectations were very high that the work of the forensic investigators was going to do the magic to serve as the blue print to deal with fire related issues in the markets.
But, it is one thing prescribing the medicine, and another administering it.
The Assemblies have again refused to implement recommendations from the forensic experts, which were replicates of the recommendations submitted yearly to the Assemblies by the local Fire Teams.
It is clear that until the Custodians of the markets whose interests are not in the maintenance but revenue collection do reorganisation of the markets into well-defined structures, the infernos would continue to ravage our markets, like what happened at the Dubai section of the new Kejetia Market in Kumasi yesterday.
State of markets in developing economies
Unfortunately, markets in the developing economies do not have well-planned and proper layouts, so they are congested.
Anytime fire breaks out in the markets, it spreads very rapidly and becomes very difficult for fire tenders to get access and maneuver for firefighting.
In Ghana, the only market designed and built with safety, protection of lives and property in mind is the Makola Market near the City Fire Station Accra.
Kudos to the Architects who did perfect work in designing the Makola Market. The Market is divided into four equal parts with alleys, which are to serve as access routes for vehicles to discharge goods.
The routes are also to be used for emergency purposes without hindrance or obstruction to other users.
Unfortunately, over the years, the alleys have been either located to traders or encroached upon by traders.
Recommendations that the Assemblies failed to implement
It was recommended that the Assemblies provided and strengthened security at the markets and ensured that securitymen patrolled the markets at all times.
The securitymen were to be provided with basic equipment (communication gadgets, fire fighting equipment, etc.) to enhance their work.
Securitymen and traders in the markets were to be trained on how to use basic fire fighting equipment and educated on the causes and prevention of fires.
The Assemblies were also to submit fire plans and protection reports to the Fire Service to be reviewed to ensure that adequate means of escape were available, satisfactory fire detection and warning systems and the relevant fire fighting equipment were provided.
They were also to engage the services of Safety Officers for every market and train some of the securitymen and the traders as fire wardens.
The Assemblies were also asked to discourage mobile fufu vendors from operating in the markets because they carried embers, which may be blown onto combustible materials and ignite them.
Cooking and setting of fires in the markets were also to be discouraged with a designated place made for cooking.
Market authorities were to ensure that overaged electrical circuits were replaced and amateur electricians discouraged from tampering with the electrical circuits.
Heaters, LPG and other similar gadgets which have the potential of causing fires were to be used carefully.
The use of carbide to hasten the ripening of plantain, banana and other foodstuffs was also to be discouraged.
The Assemblies were also to ensure segregation of occupancy ie. similar items should be sold at designated areas and every market having a built in Fire Post manned by Fire personnel at all times.
Fire safety audit reports on markets
From the study of the fire audit reports on markets, the following observations were made.
Most of the markets were found not to have any form of fire protection and have safety lapses, including the following: Obstruction of access routes to the markets, non-availability of adequate sources of water for fire fighting, non segregation of high rated combustible items from low rated ones, and reckless use of sources of ignition (electricity and naked fire).
The rest are poor communication facilities, lack of commitment of market management authorities to ensure fire safety in the markets and poor security arrangement in the markets.
Other relevant issues
The committee in the course of its deliberations, identified some weaknesses and recommended that adequate and appropriate logistics be made available to Fire officers at the Fire Post to carry out effective fire education and other activities.
It also asked that regular simulation exercises on fire fighting, and evacuation be conducted in conjunction with stakeholders and that early childhood development centres in the markets be sited close to exits to facilitate evacuation and rescue in times of emergency.
If all the above are given the needed attention and all relevant stakeholders perform their respective roles effectively, the rate at which fires break out in the markets will drastically be reduced and the extent of damage minimised.