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EDITORIAL COMMENT : Fire Brigade needs new approach

Lessons can be drawn from the gas explosion that ripped through a block of apartments in Harare’s Belvedere on Wednesday, destroying property and injuring one.

Harare Fire Brigade needs to remember that water is unlikely to be available in many suburbs at any set time. So it has to bring its own, even if this means having water tankers racing out with the engines.

Liquid petroleum gas kept in properly maintained cylinders and used in properly maintained appliances is a safe, clean and efficient fuel, but it needs to be treated with respect, used in a ventilated room and emphasis has to be placed on the phrase “well maintained” when it comes to cylinders, valves, hoses and appliances.

By law, a strong smelling additive is mixed with the gas before it is distributed to give users warning of any leaks and that warning has to be taken seriously.

In recent years, many more people in Zimbabwe have been resorting to gas for household cooking, first because of load-shedding and now because of electricity costs after the first 200 units when gas for many types of cooking is cheaper.


And there have always been those who like the precise and instant control of cooking that gas gives.

Some families use electricity for lighting and low-load appliances like the television set or family computer, but have dug out the cylinder and stove top they had to use during the load-shedding era to keep electricity consumption within the special rates.

Unfortunately, they do not always check appliances and especially the O-ring rubber seals that are needed at each point of connection.

Most gas accidents can be traced to worn out or missing seals, and this frequently happens when appliances are removed from the tank, or when the valve for a cylinder is unscrewed.

The Belvedere incident has shown the need for users to be repeatedly taught on how to safely handle gas tanks and to examine all the gas equipment they use and be continuously alert to the smell of commercial gas.

Harare Fire Brigade should draw lessons from this incident on how effective it could be in fighting fire in the city.

While gas is a good source of energy, explosive air-gas mixtures can easily be created if gas is leaking, and such an explosive mixture is certain if it is leaking in a room with closed windows and doors.

Problematic equipment used outdoors in a braai may cause a fire or a flash, but probably not a serious explosion.

Often times, a gas explosion leaves structures in ruins, while in some cases the explosion affects a large area, and not only the apartment where it started, like in the case in Belvedere.

It seems people have become complacent with regards to the dangers that lurk from the use of gas tanks, most probably because they have become too used.


We should always try to avoid the accidental gas explosions by reducing the chances of them taking place.

What is important is to ensure that the gas tanks and other related appliances are well serviced to ensure there are no leaks and that every part fits well.

Let us always remember that common causes of gas tank explosions include improper use of the gas stoves or other gas appliances and incorrectly installing the appliances.

A gas leak can easily be detected through smell, and once this happens, the safest way is to switch off the gas tank and investigate where the gas could be leaking from.

The gas leak can also be detected when the flame turns orange, instead of blue.

Those who use a gas tank should always listen to find out if there is a hissing, which signifies that there is a leak somewhere on the tank.

In all these circumstances, the best is always to turn off the gas supply.

When using a gas tank, windows and any ventilation should always be open for fresh air to circulate in the house.

Smoking or using any naked flame from a candle, for example, can cause the leaked gas to easily explode, causing a devastating fire.

But what is important is to take measures that ensure a leak does not occur on your gas tank, and one such preventive measure is to make sure that the burner is tightly secured.


Avoid wear and tear on the tank through servicing regularly, while everyone in the house should be well acquainted with safe methods of using the gas tank.

Another factor with regards the Belvedere explosion is that it brought into focus the way the Harare Fire Brigade works.

Witnesses at the scene indicated that the building could have been saved had the two fire engines that attended the scene minutes from each other had water.

Instead, the fire fighters had to search for water first, while the building was burning and by the time water was found, the fire was beyond control.

While the Harare Fire Brigade has always advanced the argument that it sends empty fire engines to fire scenes because it relies on hydrants, which should be standard infrastructure at most buildings.

In terms of Harare, a lot hydrants are either not working or are totally useless since there is nothing in the mains.

In areas getting water one day a week there is a high probability that the fire will occur on the wrong day.

So Harare Fire Brigade should rethink its operational procedure and switch to a system where water tankers accompany the fire engines.

This might be old-fashioned, but hydrant systems required high pressure in municipal pipes.

And, as with so many things, hydrants are not as well maintained as they should be.

There is also need for the city to upgrade the fire brigade through bringing in modern equipment and new technologies that aid in quick response to fire incidents and efficiency in putting out the inferno.