Lessons from a tragedy

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Now that the emotions have somewhat subsided after the devastating fire that gutted the Savalalo market last weekend, this is perhaps an opportune time to objectively consider some of the lessons from the tragedy.

And top of the list should surely be to look at ways to improve the Fire and Emergency Services Authority’s (F.E.S.A) ability to stop a fire on its track. 

Yes that is something the Authority should aim for and we say that with the utmost respect to the hardworking firemen and firewomen of Samoa. 

We acknowledge that there are plenty of challenges faced by F.E.S.A. That includes the limitation on resources, finances, manpower on top of other issues. 

But that doesn’t take away the fact they exist to save lives and properties.

Which means we should at least expect them to do that from time to time.

From a broad perspective of the Authority’s work and judging from a number of recent cases we’ve seen, they more or less exist to put out the ambers when a property has been completely demolished. Which is sad because it shouldn’t be that way. 

If all things work out, as they should, the Fire Services should at least be able to save some properties. 

But that is just not happening. And the fire at the Savalalo market last Saturday is a classic example. 

Having said that we accept that not all properties can be saved. There are some things that are beyond the control of the fire services and nothing be done about it. 

But with the fire at Savalalo last Saturday, one cannot help but feel that perhaps it could have been stopped. With the Fire Services only a several hundred metres away, you would have thought that the result could have been different.

It wasn’t to be of course and we’ve all seen the result. 

When the fire blitzed through the building, what we saw was more or less a case of letting the inferno rage until it had enough and then that was it. 

To the credit of the fire service, they did the next best thing. They concentrated on stopping the blaze from reaching nearby buildings. We say it was the next best thing because it could have been a catastrophe of epic proportions had the fire reached the nearby Tooa Salamasina Hall as well as the old Agriculture store.

Which brings us to a thought that’s been haunting us since last week.

Say the fire did reach those buildings, could the Fire and Emergency Services Authority have stopped it? What if the fire had somehow crossed the road and consumed the MacDonald building and the other nearby buildings? 

What if it was the block at Eveni Carruthers that was burning? What if it was the government building at the Eleele Fou? Does this country have the capacity to deal with such a disaster?  

Don’t get us wrong, we appreciate that F.E.S.A faces a lot of challenges in the performance of its work. 

But we do worry about the safety of Samoa and capability of the Authority to handle a major disaster. If these concerns are not addressed now, it could be disastrous in the future. 

Looking at last Saturday’s fire, one of their first challenges would’ve been the lack of fire hydrants. There were none at all. 

Now we believe installing fire hydrants right across the Apia Township, especially in the Central Business District, should be made mandatory. Those are critical in terms of the Fire Services response. 

Needless to say, water puts out fire. Without water, those fire trucks would be pretty useless. Which means the government has got to be able to come up with a way of ensuring the trucks have water all the time. 

During a fire, the blaze does not care about the challenges the firefighters go through. It means that while they are running around to find water or whatever else, by the time they return, a property is either totally demolished or just about. 

We’ve seen this time and time again. And it’s about time something is done about it.

Away from the fire services, there is also a need to educate about people about fire safety. The idea that countless gas bottles were in the Savalalo Market when the fire happened was a disaster waiting to happen.

There must be a regulation where these bottles are removed and taken away for safety reasons. Speaking of gas bottles, it’s equally important to remind people about safety when it comes to the use of gas bottles. Far too many people are careless in the use of these things.

Then there is also a need to be stringent about the spacing of the buildings, especially in town. We know this is part of the law but the government must enforce this, taking into account the worst-case scenario. Fires do not discriminate. When they happen, they will destroy and demolish without a care in the world about what we go through.

The case of the Savalalo market is an example. 

As we take a break from work today, we sympathise with the thousands of the lives affected by the devastation. We also want to acknowledge all the effort being made – including that from the government – to help the victims of the fire.

But we must not be ignorant of the lessons. As a country, we need to learn and do what’s needed to protect our properties and lives. 

If anything, we are grateful that there were no lives taken by the Savalalo fire last week. But we shouldn’t be complacent. The next time we might not be so lucky.

 Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

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