Managing the ever-present threat of disaster


Managing the ever-present threat of disaster

Monday, February 24, 2020

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Last week's gas station fire in Mandeville is a timely reminder of the many dangers lurking as people go about their everyday lives.

We feel for the family and friends of Mr Daniel Farquharson who died in hospital on Saturday as a result of the burns he sustained.

We hope and pray for four others in hospital.

The incident, which damaged cars as well as the Heaven's Fesco service station at the busy intersection of Perth, Manchester and Caledonia roads, raises questions about safety protocols, not just at gas stations but at other places where petroleum products — including cooking gas — are stored and sold.

Indeed, should such facilities even be in close proximity to population centres and other businesses? We are left to wonder.

What about those huge fuel tankers driving around as a matter of course on a daily basis? Many motorists just stay as far away from those vehicles as they possibly can. But that's hardly a solution.

These are the issues and tough questions that the society as a whole needs to contemplate with a view to applying solutions in a proactive way.

We are struck by a comment from Mrs Claudine Heaven of the affected gas station in Mandeville, Heaven's Fesco Service station.

When asked about underground petroleum storage tanks, Mrs Heaven is reported to have responded:

“If those tanks were touched there would be no Mandeville left.” That may well be an over-dramatisation, but the point is well made and taken.

We are aware that in the context of Jamaican law, gas stations fall under the Factories Act. Beyond that, this newspaper won't pretend to know a great deal — at this point — about how gas stations and other petroleum storage and retail facilities are governed.

Obviously, that has to be a work-in-progress, not just for ourselves as a newspaper but for the wider news media.

We are also aware that the relevant authorities are now conducting their forensic investigations about what went wrong in Mandeville. We all have to be careful we do not prejudice those findings in any way.

Nonetheless, eye witness reports and at least one video being circulated suggest there is much to be done in terms of safety practices, staff training etc.

Whatever happens from here, the society and the authorities must make sure that lessons are learnt and implemented as a result of the Mandeville gas station disaster.

All that said, we are aware that it could have been much worse. We note Mrs Heaven's assertion that the emergency services, including fire services, police and hospital medical staff, did “top notch” and “excellent” jobs.

All too often our emergency departments and staff come under attack for reasons that are not always legitimate. It is good to hear that in Mandeville they were on top of their game in what, we recognise, were very stressful circumstances. Congrats to them.

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