A shocking revelation was highlighted in the report by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (COI) that investigated the May 21, 2023 tragedy at Mahdia Secondary School Female dormitory which claimed the lives of 20 children. While the Commission concluded that the tragedy was caused by arson, it outlined other deficiencies leading up to the incident.

According to the report, the commissioners heard that on February 7, 2023, an inspection was carried out at the Mahdia Dormitory facility by Sub-Officer in Charge of the Mahdia Fire Station, Mr. Ryan Scott, who raised concerns about the dormitory facility.

Following this inspection, Sub-Officer Scott prepared a report in which he addressed to the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) of the Guyana Fire Service, Mr. Gregory Wickham and copied to then Regional Education Officer (REDO) for Region 8, Ms. Annesta Douglas.

The COI report revealed that Scott’s report highlighted a list of deficiencies associated with the Mahdia dormitories.

It cited that for the dormitory buildings, there was a complete absence of any fire prevention system. Accordingly, there was no fire alarm system, no fire detection system, no exit signs and no smoke detection system. The report also highlighted that there were only three fire extinguishers provided in the buildings and grills were seen on all the windows.

In fact, it was stated too that Scott’s report outlined 12 fire prevention recommendations for the facility, including requirements for a suitable fire alarm system, outward-opening final exits, exit signs, clear fire instructions, proper storage facilities, maintenance of clearance, restriction on fuel storage, high housekeeping standards, removal of window grills, provision of fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, staff training in firefighting equipment use, and installation of hydrants with a note on water main diameter.

In their report, the Commissioners; Major Singh, Attorney-at-Law Joycelin Kim Kyte-Thomas and Chairman of the National Toshaos Council (NTC)

Derrick John, concluded that both the Chief Fire Officer and the then Regional Education Officer neglected their duties.

The commissioners also expressed disappointment in the CFO’s handling of the report. It was stated that the CFO’s only minimal action taken on the recommendations was related to the fire hydrants. The CFO’s admission to informing Guyana Water Inc. about water mains but neglecting other crucial recommendations was considered a bare minimum response by the commissioners.

They said, “This we consider to be bare minimum action and certainly not a fulfillment of the duties bestowed on the most senior fire officer of this country.”

Concerns were also noted in the report that the CFO passed off responsibility for implementing emergency recommendations to the REDO.

“The conduct of the REDO was not far from that of the CFO,” the commissioners said in their report.

They explained that taken into consideration the timeline of events, as the REDO testified, from receiving Scott’s report to her unconfirmed reassignment, “it is certain nothing prevented her from taking some form of action on the report, or at bare minimum, bringing it to the attention of some other authority.”

As such, the excuses given by REDO Douglas were rejected as baseless, and her inaction was deemed careless and a complete dereliction of duties, falling significantly below the expected standard for officers in the education system.


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