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Exits, or else!

Trevor Yearwood

Exits, or else!

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“One-door business establishments which don’t move to install fire escapes should be closed down.”This call was made yesterday by civil engineer Tony Gibbs, secretary general of the Council of Caribbean Engineering Organisations. But Gibbs said Government and big business also need to have a long, hard look at some of their buildings, where a number of safety features are sadly missing.He was commenting on the fire in a Bridgetown store that claimed six lives last Friday.Gibbs noted that like the fire-ravaged Campus Trendz, a number of City stores have a single entrance/exit. “You have to get them inspected by the Chief Fire Officer and a fire escape installed, or close them down,” he told the DAILY NATION. He said store owners could not argue that installing a second door could be too expensive, given the loss of human lives and suffering that could result from a fire.In any case, “one hour of sales might cover the cost of a fire-escape door,” he suggested.Gibbs pointed out, however, that designing buildings with a fire in mind went beyond making it easy for occupants to leave.He said the ability of building materials to remain intact in the face of a fire, access to the building by fire-fighters, fire-alarm systems and fire-suppression systems were all matters that had to be considered.According to Gibbs, design problems affect not only old but new buildings in Barbados. He said he was told by an expert in fire engineering that several new buildings were clearly not compliant with accepted safety standards with respect to occupants’ getting out.The Tudor Street event has once again triggered questions about local building standards.Gibbs said Barbados has a National Building Code, published in 1993, but there was no requirement in the laws of the land for builders to comply with it. “We killed people at Arch Cot and Tudor Street because there was no requirement to comply with the building standards in the Barbados National Standards Institution document,” he charged. “I don’t know how many more people need to die before we do something about that.”He said Barbados had a number of options in terms of getting compliance to the Building Code, through the Chief Town Planner and his staff or through independent agencies similar to the ones checking building designs in Martinique and Guadeloupe.“The situation in Barbados is quite unsatisfactory with respect to building standards,” he said.