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Multi-occupancy buildings, which are still under construction provides temporary housing for migrants workers. At the moment, the buildings are overpopulated, and this strains the limited energy sources in the building.
As a result, occupants alter electricity and gas supplies in order to access several cooking points in a single dwelling and this in turn means that the buildings are at an increased risk of catching fire from overheating or short-circuits. The danger on human life and property is imminent and hence needs immediate action.
This report identifies experts in the fire department, the building owner, the occupants and the health workers as the main partners in this strategy. The report factored in the fire department expert because of their knowledge on fire prevention and management techniques, while the building owner was included as a key partner for the obvious reason that major decisions about safety in the building had to be approved by him. As the main tenants and community sharing occupancy in the building, the occupants were included as partners.
More so, their contribution to the risk through their power altering behaviour made them key players in the strategy. Although health workers do not seem like a very obvious choice, this report considered a report by Jones et al., which stipulates that while most fires are accidental, a significant number of the same are deliberately started by people who suffer from mental illnesses such as conduct disorder, schizophrenia (especially the older people) and anxiety(117).
The health workers were therefore factored in the report for purposes of identifying and enrolling people with mental disorders in programs that would ensure that they keep off deliberate fire-setting tendencies.
Assessing the risks
This report borrows from a strategy used by Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service to identify risks (2-4). The strategy identifies the probable risk, where it is likely to occur and how it is likely to affect the community. In addition, the strategy identifies individuals, agencies or organizations who may be affected by the risk should it materialize. Further, it identifies the main source of the risk and collects all the relevant data.
The main risk in our case is identified as overpopulated, incomplete buildings catching fire. The fact that the building is incomplete probably means that the building is yet to have clearly marked fire escape routes or worse still, that the alternative routes which people can use to evacuate the house in case of an emergency are littered with construction material.
More to this, it is probable that the buildings do not have any fire fighting equipment installed. The overpopulation in the buildings also poses an additional problem since apart from straining the energy resources in the buildings, it makes it even difficult to evacuate all people in good time should a fire break out in any of the floors.
Amidst the immigrants residing in the buildings could be some mentally disturbed people who could either start fire intentionally or unintentionally. As explained by Jones et al, fire causes sensory reinforcement in some mentally disturbed people (120). Such people deliberately start fires in order to experience this form of reinforcement.
Although their intentions may not be sinister, the mere fact that they are not mentally stable increases the probability that the fire could grow out of control therefore jeopardizing the safety of other people residing in the building.
Timing: According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 2), 41 percent of all residential fires started in the cooking area in the United States causing 15 percent of all fire-related deaths and 36 percent of all fire-related injuries.
Having identified that residents in the high rise buildings are already altering energy supplies in order to create more cooking points in the overpopulated buildings, this report therefore identifies the most probable time when fires would occur as cooking times. This could be either be in the day as people cook lunch or in the evening as people cook dinner.
Considering mentally disturbed people as the other main cause of fire would shift the hours to daytime or late at night when the fire lit does not draw a lot of attention. Mentally disturbed youth who are left at home as their parents attend day time jobs are more likely to start deliberate fires.
Elderly schizophrenic sufferers on the other hand would not care so much about the attention a fire attracts and therefore would deliberately light one at any time regardless of whether people are around or not. Writing for the Office of the Prime Minister, Leslie acknowledges that arson-related fires cost the United Kingdom 2 billion sterling pounds annually, in addition to loss of life and injuries (8).
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This report identifies potential loss of life and property, and fire-related injuries as the main problems that may arise from the identified risk. It has also identified the residents of the multi-storey buildings, their owner and the neighbouring community as the prime candidates who will be affected by a fire should it occur.
The surrounding community may be affected directly as the fire spreads to other buildings in the neighbourhood if immediate measures are not taken to contain its spread, or indirectly during fire extinguishing activities.
According to Hanlon, fire extinguishing activities have the ability to cause environmental damage especially when agents like foams are used (114). Water used to extinguish fires also runs the risk of contamination from the burning debris. When this water flows to the main water bodies in the area, a major environment impact may occur. Air and land contamination are the two other indirect effects of the neighbouring community.
Formulating a strategy requires an analysis of the potential risks. This makes the analysis using the Problem Analysis concept identified by Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service, whereby the victim, offender and location of the potential risk are identified (6). So far, this report has established that the potential victims of the identified risk are immigrant workers living in the partially complete multi-storey buildings. Incidentally, the victims have also been identified as the same people contributing to the risk through their power-altering behaviours. As such, they have been identified as the offenders.
However, another group of mentally unstable people have been identified as potential offenders, although the threat of their fire-setting tendencies is not as apparent as the threat arising from gas/electricity alterations. The reason why the fire risk is greater in the multi-storey building is because of the congestion caused by the overpopulation of the immigrant workers and the fact that the available cooking points are not sufficient for them.
To satisfy their needs, they have had to alter the gas/electricity supplies in order to provide addition cooking points. The presence of mentally unstable people with fire setting tendencies is the other factor contributing to increased fire risk in the buildings.
An arson reduction strategy in the high rise building would need the involvement of the fire service, the police department, a local authority representative, a researcher, the property owner, health workers and a community representative. This working group would then need to be informed about the challenges raised by the overpopulation of immigrant workers in the partially complete high rise buildings.
Based on this, each person in the group will then be given a chance to contribute ideas and voice their opinions on how best to prevent fire setting in the buildings. According to Arson Control Forum, effective communication of all participants involved in the workgroup helps to encourage a more dedicated approach to the project (9).
The Arson Control Forum states that the inclusion of a police representative is essential for the success of the strategy since this will ensure that the community cooperates more as they are assured that their security is well taken care of (11).
Strong relations with the local authority are also essential since any environmental strategy cannot be successful without their support and contribution. Work group members will also need to forge strong alliances with the buildings’ residents since that is the only way they can pass the fire-prevention messages to them.
The next step in the strategy would be to commence intervention education. Here, the work-group members can choose to directly train the residents on fire safety, or train trainers within the resident population who will in-turn train their fellow residents.
Core in this education would be the dangers of altering gas/electricity supplies in the building. More to this however, the intervention education will train residents on how to behave in case of a fire occurrence. In an analysis of how people behave when fire breaks out Yatim observes that people are more likely to use the same routes they are used to when entering and exiting the building (12).
More to this, people in high rise buildings usually have the elevator as their first choice to exiting the building. These findings suggest that many people do not understand the dangers posed by using the elevators especially where power outages may occur because of the fire.
The findings further indicate that people are either unfamiliar with alternative escape routes or are simply ignorant of their existence. The education passed to the residents therefore has to comprehensively address how people should respond to the fire.
According to Barnett et al, the safety to lives of the resident is the first major consideration that people should make (10). This means that if the fire is controllable, those at the scene should use available fire fighting devices to prevent it from spreading. If the fire is uncontrollable however, residents at the scene should evacuate the buildings as fast as possible while raising alarm in order to alert other people in other floors.
A research by Barnett Et al. found out that 90 percent of deaths occurring in residential homes from fire were caused by excess heat and suffocation from the smoke (18). Based on these findings, the workgroup should explain to the residents the importance of prompt evacuation from a burning house.
The residents will also be informed of the importance of alerting the fire department and the local police department of a fire outbreak promptly. The fire fighters not only help in evacuating people who could be trapped in some floors, but also helps save property by extinguishing or curbing the spread of fire using advanced fire fighting equipment.
The local authority will also work with the property owner to ensure that extra cooking points are fixed to cater for all people living in the multi-storey buildings. This will ensure that the illegal alterations on gas/electricity is avoided thus lowering the risk of fire.
To ease congestion in the buildings, the local authorities will partner with other property owners in the area to ensure that the immigrant workers are provided with additional housing.
Apart from identifying the main challenges facing residents in the identified residential buildings, the research included that the work-group will also identify fire setting tendencies among residents. As identified elsewhere in this report, some mentally disturbed people have fire-setting tendencies.
With the help of residents, the researcher can identify people in this category and then work with the health care providers to ensure that such people receive the necessary medical attention. This will significantly lower the risk of arson in the buildings.
The local authority should also work with the property owner to ensure that fire detecting devices and equipments are fitted in the buildings, and the residents trained on how to use the same effectively.
For example, smoke detectors, water hydrants, and fire extinguishers can be installed in the building for purposes of ensuring that a fire is easily detected and contained by the residents. The buildings must also have alternative fire escape routes which should be clearly marked for use by the residents in case of an emergency.
Justification for the strategy
The strategy adopted in this report is supported by the conditions surrounding the probable risk of fire. Although the risk lies in the buildings housing the immigrant workers, a fire occurrence would not only affect the residents, but also the neighbouring community and the property owner.
As such, the inclusion of the police department, the local authority, the property owner as well as the residents was done for purposes of ensuring that all precautionary measures were identified and enforced in order to minimise the risk of fire in the building.
By doing this, this strategy hopes to minimise the chances of loss of lives, injuries and loss of property that may occur should a fire occur in the building, while also preventing environmental damage.
Community safety cannot be attained by a single government department or agency. It has to involve the concerted efforts of other people in the community.
Most of all, the community has to be willing to accept the advice and help offered by professionals who know how to handle different issues and circumstances arising in the community. Although attaining complete safety is something that remains elusive through out the world, different communities can adopt measures to reduce risks.
More to this, through training, community members can learn how to use different equipments available in the market today to detect fires and mitigate the spread of the same. In everything however, human life should be upheld above everything else and therefore any training should underscore the importance of evacuating burning buildings fast as soon as a fire alert is issued.
Arson Control Forum. “Working Together: How to Set-up an Arson Task Force.” Office of the Prime Minister. (2003): 1-127.
Barnett, David et al.”Pathological fire setting 1952-1991: A review.” Medicine Science and the Law 34.1 (1997): 4-20.
Hanlon, David. “Environmental Protection.” Environmental manual 2.1 (2008): 1-214.
Jones, Rusell, Ribbe, David & Cunningham, Philippe. “Psychological correlates of fire disaster among children and adolescents.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 7.1 (1994):117-122.
Leslie, Chris. “Foreword: Working Together: How to Set-up an Arson Task Force” Office of the Prime Minister. (2003): 7.
NFPA. NFPA study: Nearly all structure fire deaths happen in home fires. News Releases. Web.
Yatim, Yahya Mohammed, Fire Safety in High-rise residential Building. , Scribd. n.d. Web.