Mahdia fire: Firefighters received call late but helped rescue many students

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 May 2023, 21:35 by Denis Chabrol

Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn on Wednesday said fighting the fire at the dormitory of the Mahdia Secondary School was not hampered by water shortage but firefighters received the report late from someone who drove to the fire station there.

He said the late notification of the fire department was compounded by the fact that the fire quickly ripped through the building and the melted PVC ceiling dropped on mattresses in the residential facility.

“It was a running fire call and the rapid spread of the fire meant by the time the fire service arrived, the building was fully engulfed,” Mr Benn said. He pointed out that firefighters aimed water at the inferno while their colleagues “ran around” to the north-eastern side of the building, broke holes in the concrete wall and rescued about 22 students.

Based on official statements, the Mahdia Fire Station received the report at about 11:15 Sunday night, while a surviving student told investigators that she was awakened by loud screams and saw fire in the bathroom area at about 10:50 PM.

Mr Benn refuted an earlier Demerara Waves Online News report that fire fighters were hamstrung by a shortage of water because the bowser that carries at least 2,500 gallons of water was sent to Lethem to assist with preparations for the now downgraded 57th Independence Anniversary Flag Raising Ceremony. “Water was not material to the deaths in the building,” he said.

The lone fire tender that remained in Mahdia carries 430 gallons of water.

The minister explained that after the schoolgirls fled the burning building, fire fighters continued to extinguish the blaze. “There was nothing more to be done in respect of saving lives and they continued putting water on the fire, then they went back to replenish the water and also put a pump in a hole there and another line going to the pipe,” he said,

According to the Home Affairs Minister, if the firefighters had arrived earlier with the water tender, “it would have made a difference” but accounts from several persons confirmed that firemen arrived on the scene four minutes of receiving word that the building was ablaze. “This thing about crippling shortage of water, it wasn’t true,” he said.

Speaking at a candlelight vigil outside the Home Affairs Ministry, he hinted that the security guard on duty said he/ she did not have the number for the fire station.

Police said a teenage girl allegedly started the fire after the dorm mother and a teacher seized her cellular phone. Sources alleged that she was communicating undesirable content to a man.