Fire safety at children's homes being strengthened

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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THE Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) is taking measures to strengthen fire prevention and safety at children's homes and places of safety.

Public relations and communications manager, CPFSA, Rochelle Dixon told J IS News in a recent interview that safety audits have been completed at the island's 54 public and private facilities.

She said that in addition to the audits, the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) will be conducting inspections of the homes to determine which facilities need to be outfitted with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

“We are starting with Maxfield Park Children's Home, which is semi-private. We are doing it based on priority, meaning those homes which have a longer list of immediate needs and interventions. We are going to... ensure that all of our homes have sufficient fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, and upgrade them if needs be, so that we can respond in terms of disaster plans, adjustments to building plans, and establishing escape routes,” she said.

Dixon informed that the CPFSA will be partnering with the University of Technology (UTech) to ensure that disaster plans are in place for children's homes.

“The majority of our homes have disaster evacuation plans. What we want to do is ensure that all of our homes are compliant. Even though we have the day fire drills we are now looking at the night fire drills, because what we realise is that most of the times fires happen in the night. We are extending the drills to the night to see how the children respond to it,” she indicated.

The CPFSA public relations and communications manager told JIS News that measures will be put in place for children with special needs.

“In our homes many of our children have special needs, so we are looking to see how we will incorporate a trapdoor or a special exit point for children who are wheelchair-bound, on medication, or are epileptic. We are trying to see how much we can do before the end of the year once we get the assessment from the JFB,” she said.

Giving an update on work being done to rebuild the Walker's Place of Safety in Kingston, where two children died in a fire that destroyed the facility in January, Dixon said the agency has, so far, raised more than $20 million towards the restoration effort.

She said there are also commitments from members of the private sector for the use of heavy equipment, as well as demolition of the damaged structure to be done free of cost.

A clean-up exercise is slated to take place at the site located on Lyndhurst Road as part of the CPFSA's Labour Day activities on May 23.

“We are looking now at ensuring that we have a Walker's Place of Safety because the home is very important. It is a point of contact when a child is in need of care and protection in the Kingston area, so it is very important that we have a home like Walker's,” Dixon emphasised.

She told JIS News that the 34 affected children have been receiving assistance from several public sector and corporate donors and individuals who have provided monetary and other support, as well as treats for the children.

“The children of the Walker's Place of Safety are doing well; they are in school. Some are preparing for end of [year] exams, so we are monitoring them. Our officers still visit them and continue the engagement and assessment to see who will need ongoing counselling and any other therapeutic sessions that are needed,” she noted.

The children have been placed at three homes: City of Refuge in Irish Town; Maxfield Park Children's Home; and the Jamaica National Children's Home on the grounds of Hope Gardens, St Andrew.

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