Dealing with fire, a burning issue
Colombo Chief Fire Officer
Dealing with a hazardous situation like a fire emergency can be a
dangerous experience. If the right action is not taken at the right
moment the result could be devastating. Although there are globally
accepted procedures to follow in an emergency at least to minimise
damage, this procedure it looks like has never been put into practise in
many recent cases reported in the city and the suburbs. The latest major
reported incident was in Bodhiraja Mawatha, Pettah and was a good
example which led to the destruction of 104 shops which were gutted due
to the failure to act on time.
Fire officers assisting a member of the public to douse a fire
individuals douse a fire with fire extinguishers
Colombo city is guarded by the Colombo Fire Brigade, the headquarters
of which is situated on Darley Road and is run by the Municipal Council.
It has two sub stations in Kotahena and Bloemendal with a well- trained
crew and a fleet of sophisticated fire fighting vehicles including fire
engines, water bowsers and high lift cranes. The main control room
operates 24 hours a day throughout the seven days to receive emergency
calls at any given time.
Teams of crew wait on high alert even in the middle of the night with
heavy equipment being within reach while engines are fuelled up with
bowser loads of water- all to act immediately in an emergency and
The irony is how many would take the full benefit and advantage of
this service and help to create a fire safe society. The main point in a
fire emergency is to move out safely through the designated fire exits
if you are indoors. The next is to inform the Fire Brigade as soon as
possible. It has been found that on very many occasions victims try out
their own impractical moves and methods to douse a fire and then it is
far too late for the Fire Brigade to act. This is commonly seen in
instances where there is no proper procedure laid out to follow in an
emergency and that the people act on their own instinct. Outdoor
establishments such as market places and pavement shops as well as lines
of slums may fall into this category.
The Bodhiraja Mawatha fire in early December was a classic example
where people operated on their own initiative instead of informing the
Fire Brigade at once. By the time the fire fighters reached the scene,
over a 100 shops were gutted. What was left for the fire Brigade to do
was to soak the area with water and prevent the fire from spreading to
surrounding establishments. As soon as the fire was observed vendors had
began dousing it with buckets of water and taking away whatever
valuables they could carry.
This showed the lack of knowledge of the public on how to act in a
fire emergency and the necessity to educate them . As a result a series
of fire prevention awareness programs were designed to be held by the
Colombo Fire Brigade. Crucial and congested commercial areas like
Colombo Fort and and the Pettah with a high population density were
selected for the first phase of this program which was held for a week
from January 27 to February 2. A series of awareness programs were held
in selected spots where the public gather most like the market, bus
stand, railway station and bazaars.
Shops gutted by fire in Bodhiraja Mawatha
A special demonstration was also held at Echelon Square opposite the
World Trade Centre in Fort on Friday where the public was educated on
how to act quickly in a fire that could happen in an office environment.
In this instance onlookers were educated on how to use modern fire
extinguishing cylinders that come in different forms and for different
They were shown when to use a simple water fire extinguishing
cylinder and when to use a Carbon Dioxide extinguishing cylinder. But
most important was that
the public was given the message to inform the Fire Brigade no matter
how small the fire maybe.
Colombo Chief Fire Officer Rohitha Fernando talking about the
importance of this program said that it was not sufficient to only have
a sophisticated fire fighting unit with a well- trained crew but the
public has to be aware of how to act in an emergency in the first place.
What initial steps have to be followed, how soon the Fire Brigade has to
be informed and safety precautions were vital points to be considered in
He said the first phase of the program was extremely successful with
the growing public interest in taking part in these spot awareness
programs and many programs will be held even outside Colombo in the near
future. Fire Units controlled by the Municipal Councils of Dehiwala -
Mount Lavinia and Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte will subsequently hold
similar programs. Also
small fire drills will be conducted in selected locations to display
the public how to act and extinguish a fire prior to the arrival of the
Fire Brigade at the scene.