EDITORIAL: Lessons in a tragedy

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The entire country shared feelings of sorrow with the family of Roosevelt Browne when the devastating news of his death was received. A young, bright life was plucked too soon from this earth due to injuries suffered in a house fire.
We became connected to Roosevelt via a viral social media video which showed the little boy running from the fire and into the arms of a fire fighter who rushed him to an ambulance and then to Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC).  Everyone who witnessed the video shared the same sentiment and hope – that he would recover quickly and fully.  As a collective, we offered prayers and we all tried to be as positive as we could as the news of his condition worsened. 
Unfortunately, none of the efforts of the staff of MSJMC nor our prayers worked.  God had different plans and today, Roosevelt, who was just a few weeks short of his 13th birthday, is with us only in memories.  It is one of those extremely sad stories that has gripped our nation. 
In times like this, we are all left with hindsight; especially true for the family.  Everyone second guesses their decisions and can point to more than one decision, that if made differently, would have led to a different outcome.  It is part of mourning and a necessary one at that. And while some may be critical, we hope that everyone will eventually take comfort in the knowledge that the best decisions were made at the time.  Second guessing will continue but will one day subside.
If there is one good thing that has come out of this extremely tragic event is the public discussion of fire safety.  In Antigua & Barbuda, it is one of those topics that is generally overlooked as necessity; much like the need for water safety and learning to swim.  We do not know the circumstances surrounding this particular case so we do not want our comments construed as criticism in any way.  Instead, we believe that the current public discussions surrounding the topic of fire safety should continue and positive action should come out of this tragedy.
Just like we think that it is foolhardy that we ignore water safety while we live on an island surrounded by water, we share the same sentiment that we have a large percentage of our population living in wooden structures and we do not engage fire safety measures. And even though you live in a concrete structure, fire safety should still be on your mind.  There are many flammable things in a home or business, including the roof.
So that we are all on the same page, when we talk of fire safety we talk of the measures taken to reduce the destruction caused by fires.  There are preventative measures that can be taken and there are reactive measures. On the preventative side, we took at ways of preventing the ignition and spread of unintended and uncontrolled fires – how we store combustible and flammable materials, how we build, etc.  On the reactive side, we look at fire alarms, containing the fire and most importantly, the safety of life.
None of this we need to invent.  All areas related to fire safety have been discussed globally and best practices in each area have been developed. For example, every year, the United States and Canada observe Fire Prevention Week in the week in which October 9th falls. In the United States, President Calvin Coolidge made the first Presidential proclamation of Fire Prevention Week in 1925, so this is not something new.  This year, the theme is “Every Second Counts:  Plan 2 Ways Out”. 
And while our fire department may not be able to produce the educational material related to fire safety due to resource constraints, this should not be a constraint for us, in terms of educating ourselves in this extremely important area. Just take the time to visit the website of an organisation like the National Fire Protection Association (nfpa.org) and you will find a treasure trove of material. 
We realise that people have busy lives and many think that this sort of stuff is just common sense but do not provide yourself with a false sense of security.  The reality is, you need a plan.  In a fire, panic sets in and unless you have some sort of plan in your mind, escape becomes so much harder in the few seconds available to you.
We can all start by identifying possible sources of fires in our homes and businesses and remedying any weaknesses identified.  Ensure that there are adequate fire detection alarms and fire extinguishing equipment.  Also, make sure there is a schedule to test and maintain these devices; especially in simple do-it-yourself areas like battery replacement. Have a plan of escape and make sure everyone in the house or business can function independently in the case of a fire. 
These are just a few of the many areas that should be addressed, so do yourself a favour and visit a fire safety site like the one mentioned above.  Seconds do count in a fire and those seconds which you buy yourself with proper planning could avert a tragedy.
Let us not allow this conversation to fizzle.  We owe it to Roosevelt. 
To the family and friends of Roosevelt Browne, our thoughts and prayers go out to you all.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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