March 19, 2019

Fighting Fire… But Not Necessarily With Fire

Following a recent increase in fire-related incidents noted countrywide, our C.E.O Tony Sahni speaks on basic safety practices when it comes to preventing fires in places where we spend large […]

Fighting Fire… But Not Necessarily With Fire

Following a recent increase in fire-related incidents noted countrywide, our C.E.O Tony Sahni speaks on basic safety practices when it comes to preventing fires in places where we spend large amounts of our time.

According to our own records, there has been a steady increase in the number of fire-related incidents across the country in the past three months. In fact, the figure in February 2019 alone is more than what we noted in December 2018 and January 2019 combined. This excludes cases of arson, therefore pointing towards other common causal factors such as human error and electric fault. With the prevailing weather conditions being hot and dry in most areas, strong winds make it that much easier to start fires and harder to fight them.

Accommodation Facilities

We can draw several lessons from recent occurrences at accommodation facilities. When planning recreational activities, ensure you have the relevant emergency response teams on standby. If it’s a fireworks display, a fire brigade team and an ambulance should be in close proximity, or at the very least, have their hotlines on speed dial.

I would add that some onus here lies with the guests as well. If no one points out the fire exit closest to your room and the dining area, be sure to ask. Learn where the fire assembly point is as well. Most hotels have an information pack detailing all this in each room, so take the time to study the procedure when checking in.


Hotel management should also take note of any and all foreign nationalities under their care and reach out to their embassies should an eventuality such as a fire occur. Some guests might lose their personal documents, thus complicating their travel plans. Step in and help as much as possible.

Informal Settlements

Fires in informal settlements snowball quickly as a result of various factors. Scarcity of space for instance forces residents to put up houses quite close together. This, in addition to the construction material often used in such settings, means even a small fire escalates to a raging inferno in a matter of minutes.

Image taken from a fire that razed Silanga Slums in Kibera in September 2018. Six deaths were reported in the incident.

In such areas, timely response and evacuation is critical. However, we have seen infrastructural challenges frustrating emergency rescue efforts, more so when it comes to accessibility. While local authorities work on improving the existing infrastructure, an easier fix to implement would be civic education on fire safety.

Given how fast fires in these environs spread, a community warning system would also help speed up the evacuation process. We can even take it a step further and establish fire assembly points and a headcount system, which would then help focus any rescue efforts and resources where they are needed the most.

Residential Areas

The uptake of security systems has improved, especially in recent years. However, this zeal is rarely matched when it comes to fire safety. We often think about perimeter security and intrusion prevention for instance, while giving short shrift to fire detection and suppression equipment.

Gadgets like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are still thought of in the same line with sprawling office complexes, but this is not necessarily true. At the very least, one should have a fire extinguisher, preferably carbon dioxide, and fire blankets at hand. Additionally, identify a suitable fire escape and share that with your family. Have at least two ways to leave the house and ensure there is clear egress at all times.

Another concern that we have had is the use of substandard gas cylinders in our kitchens. We have noted several incidents where fires started as a result of a faulty cylinder. A couple of weeks back, a house fire in Garissa was attributed to a leaking gas cylinder, causing damages amounting to thousands of shillings.

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Such scenarios are sometimes exacerbated by human negligence, like guardians locking young ones inside the house, making it difficult for them to escape. Another issue that sometimes comes up is a lack of civic education on fire safety, which leaves victims attempting to put out oil-based fires using water for example.

In light of this, be sure to stick to approved dealers when purchasing or refilling your cylinders. Also take the time to learn the different classes of fires and the best means to put them out. An oil-based fire should only be put out using a foam or carbon dioxide extinguisher, while only dry powder or carbon dioxide extinguishers can be used for electrical fires. However, for smaller fires around the house, a fire blanket should suffice.

Office Complexes

Sometimes, simply adopting a ‘safety first’ culture is enough to circumvent most fire hazards. Have staff who are also trained fire marshals and First Aiders; and they will then have the knowledge to advise on any potential risks in the office. Alternatively, some security service providers train their officers on fire fighting and First Aid. Check with your service provider and confirm whether this is the case.

Speaking from past experience, our officers have been involved in putting out a number of fires at key, multi-storey installations over the years, averting millions of shillings in potential damage in the process. Perhaps it would be best to bear this in mind as well when picking your security provider going forward.

Another critical component here is early detection. Smoke detectors might not cut it when it comes to highly sensitive sites; or they might not allow you enough time to scramble a response team. The next level of fire detection is through the use of aspiration technology. This type of system continually samples the air in its proximity; looking for any particles or elements which would indicate that combustion is imminent. It will then flag the fire long before it actually starts.

A FAAST system aspiration chamber

For larger buildings and highly sensitive sites, an integrated building management system that has fire as one of its integral elements would be preferred.

{PICS: Courtesy)

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