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ELECTION 2022

Buruburu school fire highlights critical gaps in school emergency

EDUCATION
By Augustine Oduor and Winfrey Owino | Nov 2nd 2021 | 2 min read
Buruburu Girls High School dormitory on fire. [Courtesy]

Buruburu Girls in Nairobi has attracted scrutiny on the safety standards in government schools.

Witnesses said the emergency doors of the dormitory were locked and the school administrator who had the keys was not in the school.

"The keys to the emergency door are supposed to be next to the door where anyone can access them if need arises. But in this case, the keys were not there,” a first responder said.

Luckily, the dormitory windows did not have grills which allowed the students to escape.

The Safety Standards Manual for Schools (2008) demands that the keys for dormitories be in the custody of dormitory masters/mistresses or dormitory prefects.

The Claire Omolo-led task force, which published the manual, found that some schools had not installed emergency exits in dormitories. Some dormitories had emergency exits, but they were permanently blocked.

In its report, it said some dormitories had narrow doors that compromised the safety of students in case of an emergency.

“In some schools, dormitories were not locked when learners were out which made them accessible to intruders,” reads the task force report in part.

The team also found that some dormitories were sometimes locked from outside at night to deter students from sneaking.

And in other cases, the keys to the dormitories were kept by students or watchmen contrary to the safety regulations, which stipulated that keys be in the custody of dormitory masters/ mistresses or dormitory prefects.

“In some schools, the students who had the keys were the suspects in the arson cases,” reads the report.

Dormitories, the report says are easy targets for protesting students because they are the most valuable buildings in schools. 

“Most of the schools visited had congested dormitories with some students sleeping in triple-decker beds in order to accommodate large numbers and in some cases students share beds,” the report says.

The 2008 safety manual also required that spaces between beds must be wide enough to allow for maneuver and escape during an emergency.

From the Buruburu Girls Sunday incident, video clips circulating on social media captured students who were in the dormitories when the fire broke struggling to escape as the inferno ravaged a section of the dormitory.

According to the school principal Carol Maina, the students had minimal injuries and were rushed to the nearby Metropolitan and Jamaa hospitals in Buruburu after the inferno.

In an interview with the media minutes after the incident, the school head said those injured were in a stable condition.

“We have done our best to contain the situation because it was not an entire floor that caught fire. It was just a cubicle,” she said. 

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