Musaeus fire exposes short comings


The fire-damaged 1,650-seat capacity auditorium and sports complex at Musaeus College was declared out of bounds for students Saturday as police and loss-adjusters investigated the blaze, but initial findings point to shortcomings in training staff to deal with an emergency.

The trustees of the school informed students that they should not access the area until further notice, according to a poster put up on school gates facing Barnes Place.  Shattered glass from the building was still strewn on the street while structural damage to the auditorium could be seen from outside.

The top fire brigade official who directed the rescue operation said over 90 per cent of the interior was destroyed by the fire while the structure too had cracked at several places. They suspected an electrical issue, but would not confirm the cause without the government analyst carrying out investigations.

Fire operations chief R. G. Wijesuriya said they used water from the school’s swimming pool to douse the flames, but Musaeus staff appeared ill-trained to deal with the emergency.

"Given the fire fighting equipment they had, they would have been able to contain the fire if the staff was properly trained," Wijesuriya said.

"One of the employees was trying to use a fire extinguisher without removing its (safety) pin. By that time, the fire could not be controlled with the small extinguisher he carried so I asked him to move away to safety."

The design of the school was such that the bigger fire fighting platform could not be moved in and it had to be parked outside on the road to pump water to the exterior of the building to prevent the fire from spreading, Wijesuriya said.

He said they responded within about eight minutes, but would have been able to make it in less than half that time if not for traffic at Town Hall and Union Place junctions.

"If the fire started during school hours, it would have been a much bigger disaster because our vehicles would not have been able to access Barnes Place and Rosmead Place because of school vehicles parked there.

"There is no traffic plan in the event of a fire during school hours and we would not have been able to access the location. We are lucky that this happened (after school) at a time when the traffic was less."

There were no casualties as the fire started after school hours.

The school has gates opening out onto both Barnes Place and Rosmead Place.

Police have recently put up no parking signs along both roads after repeated complaints from residents whose gates are regularly blocked by cars and vans waiting to pick up students. The auditorium has compounded their problems with cars of concert goers blocking residents in the evenings too.

Residents had resisted the Musaeus setting up a large auditorium arguing that there was no parking within the school premises to accommodate the vehicles that would bring people to the facility.

However, in December 2011 the auditorium had been granted permission to open its doors only for school events and during school hours, but the facility had been rented for commercial events after school hours.

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