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Poor fire prevention, emergency management at Children’s Drop-in Centre

A Commission of Inquiry into the fire that killed two young brothers at the Ministry of Social Protection’s Drop-In Centre has found that there was a lapse in fire prevention and fighting systems.

“The preliminary report pointed to some issues of bad policy arrangements for fire,” Minister of State, Joseph Harmon told a post-cabinet news briefing.

Antonio and Joshua George, aged two and six respectively were burnt to death on July 7, 2016 at drop-in centre located on Hadfield Street, Georgetown.

Conducted by Retired Colonel, Windee Algernon, the probe found there was insufficient collaboration between entities that manage the drop-in centre. Harmon said there were insufficient drills for fire and other emergencies.

“It pointed to some systemic problems which we have to address and in my view not only there but in any government facility,” he said.

The preliminary report was submitted to President David Granger on July 22, 2016 and the final report is due to handed in on August 15, 2016.

The Guyana government has taken full responsibility for the demise of the Georges, but has ruled out any compensation before the end of the Commission of Inquiry.

Colonel Algernon is expected to inquire into the nature of injuries sustained  by all children, assess the dangers to which children and staff were exposed to at the time of the incident, and whether the conduct of the staff  who were on duty was in conformity with the legal obligations of the State and the Standard Operating Procedures governing the Drop-In Centre.

The Commissioner has also been tasked specifically with determining who should take the blame for the incident, whether there was a failure on the part of State officials to deal appropriately or adequately with matters that gave rise to the loss of lives and whether there were any unsafe or improper arrangements for the care, custody and welfare of the children.

Algernon is also required to make comprehensive recommendations to ensure the safety of  Children at the Hadfield Street, Georgetown, Drop-In Centre, improve the effectiveness and adequacy of the current emergency arrangements for fire and any other disaster, interaction between the departments, agencies and service providers and how the sectors can  work together to better protect children and young people who are under the care and supervision of the State.

The Commissioner is expected to interview, among others, the the staff of the Drop-In Centre, children, parents and guardians of children under the care and control of the State at the centre and any other individual or organisation the Commissioner deems appropriate.