Longhouse fires in Sarawak, a growing concern – Part 3

Participants at the recent Bomba Summer Camp in Miri getting practical experience on how to put out a fire.

By Nancy Nais

IN Part 1 of the ‘Longhouse fires in Sarawak, a growing concern’ series, DayakDaily touched on the alarming number of longhouse fire cases in the last three years and the agony faced by the victims.

In Part 2, DayakDaily picked the brains of several senior fire chiefs from the state Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) for practical tips on how to address the situation.

In Part 3, DayakDaily takes a closer look at causes of longhouse fires and public fire safety education and awareness measures.

Causes of longhouse fires

Over the past three years, obsolete wiring, short circuits, electricity usage overload, flaming fire as well as unattended cooking activities, matches and candles were the causes of longhouse fires.

Statistics from the state Bomba reveals that out of 24 cases this year, 11 cases were due to short circuit or electricity usage overload and another 11 cases arose from flaming fire such as cigarettes, mosquito coils or candles.

One case was recorded as cooking without supervision, while the cause of the recent fire on Dec 12 at Nanga Entulang in Sri Aman is still pending investigation.

In 2017, from the total of 26 longhouse fires recorded, the most common cause was cooking without supervision (10 cases). This is followed by short circuit or electricity usage overload (nine cases) and flaming fire (seven cases).

In 2016, the department’s investigations revealed that out of the 20 cases recorded, 10 were caused by electricity usage overload, eight from cooking without supervision and two by flaming fires.

A participant learning how to put out a fire during the recent Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in Spupok Niah, Miri.

Years ago, when the rural areas were less developed, there were only a handful of fire cases. Back then, the majority of rural settlements were not connected to electricity grids.

In recent years, in tandem with the state’s steady development, more and more rural areas finally have electricity, which is good news for the villagers. However, it is also a cause of concern when these villagers go overboard by plugging in many extension wires, taxing the electrical points and overloading them with electrical appliances.

Bomba director-general Datuk Mohammad Hamdan Wahid, who recently visited Uma Lahanan and Uma Daro longhouses in Sungai Asap, Belaga, commented that most longhouse fires were caused by electrical faults.

“Apart from that, most longhouses in Sarawak are (the) traditional (type), and they do not have fire safety features such as separating wall or party wall between each ‘bilek’ (room)”, he pointed out.

Since building longhouses does not require any approval from government agencies, no one can force these folks to rebuild or add fire safety features.

Educating the public

Out of concern for the safety of the rural populace, Bomba has been taking the initiative to formulate appropriate programmes and find ways to help the villagers overcome existing barriers.

“We hold various fire safety awareness and prevention programmes such as longhouse outreach campaigns, summer camps, community Bomba and community emergency response teams (ERT) in collaboration with the state. Additionally, we also establish voluntary firefighting units and implement Bomba programmes for children.

“With coordinated action by the longhouse folks who are trained in fire-fighting, when there is fire, the blaze can be prevented from spreading further,” said Hamdan.

The longhouse’s ERT can also help to douse the flames while waiting for Bomba to arrive.

Participants at the recent Bomba Summer Camp in Miri learning how to use a water hose.

Currently, Sarawak has 503 units of community Bomba comprising 4,771 members, 60 volunteer firefighter units with 2,315 members, and 186 auxiliary firefighters.

Apart from repeating reminders on fire safety, another simple and effective way to reduce longhouse fire statistics is the use of fire extinguishers by trained adults. Even mobile fire extinguishers can save lives and properties by extinguishing small fires, but mobile extinguishers have limitations because fire spreads quickly.

Sarawak Bomba director Khirudin Drahman said to-date, 749 longhouses have set up community Bomba fire teams, and the department would continue to expand this initiative into more longhouses and villages next year.

Additionally, Khirudin said the department would strongly emphasise the ‘3P approach’ — Precaution, Prevention and Protection — for longhouse folks.

He said 3P should be taken seriously as this could help to prevent more cases involving fire, which usually starts small.

Khirudin (back row, third from left) in a recent group photo with 36 children who took part in the Kelab Keselamatan Kanak-Kanak (3K) programme at Tabuan Jaya fire station, Kuching.

“If everyone can practice 3P, then we can reduce fire cases and losses. Apart from that, our department has also developed various fire safety modules for children under the Kelab Keselamatan Kanak Kanak (3K) programme. This is because children are fast learners, able to absorb when we make it interesting, and they can remember,” he added.

Khirudin, who speaks fondly on educating the little ones, strongly encouraged kindergarten, primary schools and even parents to bring their children to fire stations for awareness programmes. — DayakDaily