Sun, 26 Jan 2003

Human error, negligence behind frequent fires

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Human factor is mostly to blame for the frequent fires in densely populated Jakarta, according to the Jakarta Fire Department.

This includes the dangerous practice of electricity theft as well as plugging too many appliances into one electricity socket and worn out electrical wiring.

Other reckless behavior includes the imprudent use of stoves and kerosene lamps, smoking while in bed, and discarding a cigarette butt in a trash bin without putting it out properly as well as placing a burning mosquito coil too close to combustible materials.

Actions like these were the major causes of fire last year, totaling 869 cases which killed 23 people, injured 38 and caused Rp 130 billion (US$14.4 million) in financial losses.

Out of the total 869 fires in 2002, some 397 were caused by various electrical malfunctions, 89 cases by cooking stoves and 79 by burning cigarettes.

When a fire breaks out, members of the public often neglect to immediately call the fire department, causing more damage or even deaths.

This is simply due to ignorance about fire prevention and fire extinguishing methods.

Jakarta Fire Department spokesman Sardiyo Sardi said the department launched a campaign in 2001 to increase public knowledge about fire prevention.

One program of the campaign was televised public service ads on fire prevention. However, the campaign proved ineffective and costly, Sardiyo said, and was subsequently dropped.

Now the fire department has embarked on another campaign that includes community training for volunteers on fire prevention, control, evacuation and rescue. So far 40 volunteers have undergone training.

Yoni Aryoni, an officer from the fire prevention division, said the campaign would continue, with students as the next target .

"In the future, fire prevention and training should also be introduced at school so that even children will know what to do in case of fire," Yoni said.

Ideally, all neighborhoods should have fire extinguishers and a water reservoir to fight a fire before fire-fighters arrive. However, many people cannot afford fire extinguishers.

But at least, with increasing public awareness and the availability of more volunteers, there will be fewer and fewer fires. If a fire does break out, at least the public will be ready to deal with it.