News

Fire causes panic at NCB South Tower

BY KARYL WALKER walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 03, 2014    

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STAFF employed to various government agencies were forced to vacate the National Commercial Bank's (NCB's) South Tower building on Oxford Road in Kingston yesterday after a fire broke out on the ninth floor, which houses a department of the Tax Administration of Jamaica (TAJ).

The building also houses a branch of the NCB.

The fire quickly spread to other floors of the building and firefighters worked hard to contain the blaze.

A woman who works on the ninth floor appeared very distraught and was heard asking a fireman to retrieve her handbag which she said contained all her important documents and cards.

"I was in the pantry eating my breakfast when mi see the smoke. Mi run out of the building and leave mi breakfast and my handbag. I hope it don't burn up because it have in my driver's licence, my credit cards, all my cards and important documents. Those are too hard to get back," the woman said.

However, the fireman indicated that his first priority was to contain the blaze.

That task proved challenging for the firefighters as the building had no windows and the smoke had nowhere to escape but through the front lobby.

This forced the firefighters to don self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs) before entering the building.

Public relations officer for the fire department, Emelio Ebanks, said several SCBAs had been exhausted during the early part of the exercise.

Undaunted, the firefighters used heavy equipment to break out five panes of glass in order to let in fresh air and allow the smoke to escape.

That, too, took some effort as the glass was more than an inch thick, Ebanks said.

There were reports that smoke had travelled through an underground connecting tunnel and had started to affect staff in the nearby North Tower. However, staff were soon allowed to reoccupy that building after checks found that it was safe to do so.

The fire broke out at about 9:00 am and by early afternoon firemen had successfully contained the blaze, which had spread to the 10th and 11th floors.

Several pieces of furniture and equipment in the offices of the TAJ were damaged.

Some of the occupants of the South Tower were initially unwilling to heed the fire alarm after a false alarm by a mischievous boy caused them to file out of the building in vain on Tuesday.

"Because of yesterday's [Tuesday's] false alarm, nobody wanted to get up from their desks when the alarm was raised," a worker on the building said.

On March 11, the same building had to be evacuated after noxious fumes caused some people to fall ill.

The building also houses the Ministry of Justice, which issued an advisory yesterday afternoon informing members of the public who had business to conduct there that they could make enquiries in the lobby of the North Tower today.

The ministry also advised staff that they should make contact with their supervisors before reporting for work today.

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