New building codes unnecessary for fire prevention, expert says

The Government of Antigua & Barbuda may not have to review laws or building codes to address the reduction or suppression of fires on the island, according to the former project manager of Caribbean Uniform Building Code, Tony Gibbs.

Gibbs said that the current laws governing the country’s construction industry are adequate to deal with fire prevention, but the effective enforcement of these laws is what is lacking.

“I don’t think new laws are even necessary,” he said. “The building guidelines to my recollection have adequate measures in place for fire prevention. They just need to be enforced.”

According to Gibbs, following Hurricane Luis in 1995, two documents, along with the Caribbean Uniform Building Code which dates back to 1985 were made mandatory.

There’s been widespread debate about the issue of fire prevention after 41-year-Gayan Williams and her three-year-old son Jaydan, died after an electrical fire occurred at their Jennings home on August 24.

But Gibbs said, “There is no shortage of information available to the construction industry not only for formal institutional buildings but also for the informal sector dealing with small houses.

“The building codes which exist, they provide information on the planning of houses and building materials to be used in the construction and materials to be used for furnishings.”

In addition, the expert said they also provide information on access and exiting properties in the case of a fire.

Meantime, Fire Investigator Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Rupert Markham said there should be legislation to guide the standard on which products such as fans are imported and sold in Antigua & Barbuda.

The fire investigator said that more often than not, fires stemming from electrical problems are centred around the use of fans.

“Persons sleeping in the night smell something burning and the fans are the culprit,” he said. “I think something should be done in terms of legislation to ensure that these fans meet standards.”

Some residents are also of the view that wooden structures have largely contributed to the increase in fires, saying that the country should move to building concrete homes in order to reduce the incidents of fires.

However, that argument did not sit well with architect and project manager Colin John Jenkins.

“The problem is not what material you use to build homes, it’s about how you deal with codes, the policing of these codes and as well what materials you put within the home,” he said.

According to Jenkins, “Just as you have wood, concrete can burn, there’s no material out there that can really withstand fire.”

All three men were guests on Sunday’s Big Issues.

The government has said it is moving ahead with plans to set up a burn unit at the Mount St John’s Medical Centre despite being warned that there are not enough cases to justify the expense.