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Apr 12, 2006

Firefighters fail, allowing house to burn

Story PictureThe dry season may bring good weather for holiday outings but it also spells trouble for old wooden houses facing the peril of fire. Today that combination, along with what appears to be a large measure of professional incompetence, produced tragedy for some residents of Belize City. News Five’s Jacqueline Godwin could only stand by helpless as the debacle unfolded.

Jacqueline Godwin, Reporting
When News Five arrived on the scene at number thirty-eight Gibnut Street, some of the fire victims had already brought out onto the street most of their possessions. The blaze appeared to be concentrated to the rear of the two-storey wooden building. The fire fighters, who had arrived fifteen minutes after receiving the call, were climbing through front windows to reach the fire. Another team was stationed to the back of the structure.

As an anxious crowd gathered in the street, it became frightening clear that there was a problem. One of the firefighters soon emerged from the rear of the building with a dry hose in hand. There was no water to fight what was poised to become a raging inferno.

?Them bally, they di run up and down with the hose them instead ah they wet the fire. That dah the first reaction when you reach a fire place, wet the place, wet the place. That?s all you need fu do, just wet it.?

As frustration built on the streets some people were pushed back by the intense heat as the fire quickly got out of control and completely engulfed the old structure.

Yvonne Wade, who lived on the upper flat, was out doing Easter shopping when she received the bad news … As Wade walked in a daze towards her residence she was overcome with emotion and collapsed.

Yvonne Wade, Fire Victim
?I never believe such thing like that because like I dah wa person weh always look after things and mek nothing happen and thing, and so and like when I get on the scenery, I was like gosh can?t be my house. I couldn?t believe my eyes.?

Ruth Smith, who occupied a room on the ground floor, did managed to remove some of her clothes and furniture before the blaze reached her place.

Ruth Smith, Fire Victim
?I was working at tourist village and a young lady by the name of Cynthia told me that a house somewhere in the neighbourhood was burning, so I decided to call and then my phone just rang out. Then that?s when I decided to take a cab and come home, and this is what I found.?

By the time the fire-fighters found water, it was too late. They did mange, however, to prevent the blaze from spreading to nearby buildings although the vinyl siding from this house melted due to the intense heat.

?And that bad, wah lee bit a water for the Fire Department. Da when time they reach yah da then they go full up water cho, that bad baby.?

Yvonne Wade
?Well I think that they better do a better job because then people lives coulda be loses too, but thank God we are right here at the present moment. It?s a pain in my heart, but thank God nobody get hurt or die.?

But what could have gone wrong? Operations manager Michael Middleton says the major problem they had was re-supplying their trucks with water, but he admitted that the team failed to do its job.

Michael Middleton, Operations Mgr., National Fire Service
?We did not follow our–what we call our standing operating procedures. Upon arrival at the scene, one truck was to go directly to the open source, while one stay to the scene. With that, by the time the first truck ran out of water, the second truck would already drafted water to re-supply the scene, and the fire would be under control very early.?

?Two trucks went to the fire, they both ran out of water within three to five minutes then after that we had to go to the canal to re-supply the scene. That took us roughly ten to fifteen minutes, which is definitely unacceptable by the public and by the department. ?

Jacqueline Godwin
?If there was not this delay, do you believe this building could have been saved??

Michael Middleton
?Definitely. So we made mistakes, we must admit to that and therefore we need to make sure that next time these same mistakes do not reoccur.?

Middleton says when the firefighters first responded to the scene a team should have entered the building and use the available water at the time to fight the source of the blaze. Instead, Middleton says the team stayed outside of the structure spraying water on the building. All two thousand gallons of water were quickly used. Middleton says they did not use the fire hydrant located just around the corner, because it would not have given them the sufficient supply they needed. The truck went to North Creek Canal and that?s what caused the delay.

Michael Middleton
?Definitely you can not put the blame on the fire service because we did not–we were not there, we did not start the fire, but we have to admit we made mistakes, which was very–I would call it devastating. So we have to admit to some mistakes, but people, whatever caused the fire to start, that?s what the major problem was.?

Jacqueline Godwin
?What caused this fire to start??

Michael Middleton
?At this moment we are unsure.?

Jacqueline Godwin
?Did it start from the rear of the building though, in a room, where??

Michael Middleton
?It started in the rear of the building.?

At least ten persons have been left homeless. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze. Jacqueline Godwin for News Five.

Yvonne Wade is appealing to the public for assistance, especially clothes, for the family that includes five children, ages thirteen to twenty-four. You can contact Wade by calling 601-3193 or visit the family at their temporary location at number seventeen Jane Usher Boulevard.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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