Gov’t assessing alternatives for students, staff of fire-ravaged North West Sec. School
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An aerial shot of the school following the fire
An aerial shot of the school following the fire

-cause of blaze still unknown

EVEN as the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) continues its investigation into the cause of Friday night’s fire that destroyed a huge section of the North West Secondary School at Mabaruma, Region One, a high-level team from the Ministry of Education (MoE) has already begun working on alternative arrangements for the approximately 600 students and the staff.

About 60 per cent of the school building is said to have been destroyed by the fire of unknown origin, which occurred at 22:00hrs.

In a telephone interview with the Guyana Chronicle, Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, noted that everything was being done to look at alternative accommodation for the school’s students and staff.

Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand

“We are going to work non-stop to find out how we can cater and deliver education effectively to all of these students. That is what we are currently engaged in doing and we won’t stop until we are satisfied that we have a solution while we rebuild the school,” Manickchand said.

Up to Sunday, a MoE team which included Chief Education Officer, Dr. Marcel Hutson; Deputy Chief Education Officer (DCEO) for Amerindian and Hinterland Development, Marti DeSouza; Assistant Chief Education Officer (Inspectorate), Saddam Hussain, and the Director of School Boards, was still on the ground in Region One working along with regional officials to assess alternatives.

“As we speak they are on the ground trying to find the most effective way forward for the students there,” Manickchand noted on Sunday.

The ministry will have some time to work out a plan, as secondary schools in Guyana have not yet reopened face-to-face learning pending the completion of the current ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaign across the country for adolescents 12 – 17-years-old.

No one was said to be in the building when Mark Knights, the guard on duty heard three loud explosions, which he said emanated from a room located on the second floor of the eastern side of the building. Upon investigating, he saw the room engulfed in flames.

The two-storey building consisted of an auditorium, six classrooms, and a Home Economics Department – all of which had an undisclosed amount of stationery, desks and benches, chalk boards, computers, laboratory equipment, kitchen utensils and other items.

Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn

This fire occurred just months after a large portion of the North Ruimveldt Multilateral Secondary School located in Georgetown was destroyed by a fire. Given this new occurrence, Manickchand noted that the ministry will be working on a plan to guard against future fires at public schools across the country.

“It is something that we have begun to look at. But, we have to first look at what happened here to know what it is we need to work on, but, yes, the discussion has begun about what it is that we need, be it more early fire warning systems or better firefighting capacity et cetera,” Manickchand noted.

Also visiting the location on Saturday was a team from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), which included the subject minister, Robeson Benn; Fire Chief, Kalamadeen Edoo, and other GFS personnel, as well as ranks of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Guyana Police Force (GPF).

Benn said that the MoHA has been in continual contact with the MoE, and the two ministries are working together to get to the bottom of the cause of the fire. They are also looking at how to move forward with preventing such occurrences in the future.

“We have to make sure that the proper steps are taken to make sure that we don’t have a repeat at other schools. We have to ensure proper safeguarding after hours and proper storage of anything that could cause a fire, along with securing electrical appliances; having smoke detectors in the building and fire extinguishers at hand for proper response,” Benn noted in an interview with this publication on Sunday.

Benn added that the fire came just as the GFS was putting measures in place to get the Mabaruma Fire Station up and running. With the building already completed and staff already trained, the MoHA has been working to have the facility equipped with the necessary fixtures.

“Unfortunately this fire has come shortly before the scheduled opening of the new fire station there. The equipment, furnishing and a new fire tender are supposed to be in there by the third week of October,” Benn noted.

Notwithstanding the lack of firefighting equipment, Benn praised the auxiliary fire fighters and police officers in the region whose assistance helped to somewhat contain the fire.

“The means to fight the fire were fairly limited so we have to thank the auxiliary fire fighters who were there in the region, and also the police and citizens for the efforts to fight and constrain the spread of the fire,” he said.

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