The Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) is working on a new regulatory regime that will make it mandatory for private residential accommodation owners to acquire a fire safety permit before they put up buildings.
The permit regime will ensure that residential accommodation owners incorporate fire safety mechanisms into the structure to make them safer for habitation.
The move is meant to reduce the rising incidents of domestic fires in the country. The current fire permit regime is limited to commercial property.
The Director of Public Relations of the GNFS, Assistant Chief Fire Officer Grade One (ACFO 1), Timothy Osafo- Affum, who made this known to the Daily Graphic, said the GNFS had started engagement with key stakeholders and experts on the initiative.
“The processes have started; we are in the first phase where we are doing consultation of key stakeholders, including experts, and very soon, we will roll it out. It may not be this year, but I can assure you that within the next two years, we will have it rolled out,” he said.
Domestic fires alarming
The move by the GNFS comes in the wake of the current situation where domestic fires are said to lead in all reported incidents in the last 10 years, a trend analysis of fire statistics has revealed.
Out of the 59,933 fire outbreaks reported over 10 years, between 2013 and 2022, 23,394 were domestic fires, representing 39 per cent of the entire figure.
Comparatively, bushfires accounted for 8,948 of the outbreaks, representing 14.9 per cent, while commercial and vehicular fires were 7,839 (13.1 per cent) and 7,065 (11.8 per cent) respectively.
Additionally, there were 6,526 (10.9 per cent) fire outbreaks resulting from electrical faults, with institutional and industrial fires recording 1,461 (2.4 per cent) and 1,259 (2.1 per cent) in that order.
All other causes of fire outbreaks put together were 3,441, accounting for 5.7 per cent of the total fire incidents.
The persistent increase in domestic fires was partly because the current fire regulations on permits for the construction of private or residential accommodation were not watertight on adherence to fire safety protocols, the GNFS PRO said.
Mr Osafo-Affum explained that domestic fires had been the leading cause of fire outbreaks in the country almost every year because of human activities.
“Once we have people inhabiting homes, we should naturally expect that fires will occur. But this is fuelled by other factors ranging from substandard building materials and negligence on the part of people,” he said.
However, he added, the scale of domestic fire incidents in the country was unacceptably high.
“The statistics only show official figures as have been reported to the GNFS, but there are many fire outbreaks that are not recorded because they have not been reported to us,” he said.
Mr Osafo-Affum indicated that although the GNFS had carried out fire safety education and sensitisation campaigns over the years, it appeared that many people were adamant to change.
The senior fire officer observed that almost 70 per cent of the fire incidents that occurred in the country were preventable, if only people adhered to fire safety protocol.
Asked whether the ongoing engagements would lead to a new legislation, Mr Osafo-Affum said the GNFS was looking more at aspects of the existing law that could be tightened to deal with the current situation where builders of private accommodation were not compelled to acquire a fire permit before putting up the buildings.
“If that is not possible, then we will come out with a new legislation,” he said.
“All buildings meant for commercial purposes are given permits which ensure that all safety standards are adhered to, but the problem has to do with the domestic buildings or residential accommodation.
“The GNFS currently has no mandate to issue a permit to residential accommodation. We only give a fire permit when it is a private-commercial building,” Mr Osafo-Affum explained.
While the Fire Precaution (Premises) Regulations, 2003 (L.I 1724) explicitly provides for a rigorous permitting regime for commercial facilities, that is not the case with private accommodation.
Regulation one of L.I 1724 itemises premises for which fire certificates are required.
“Unless exempted by these Regulations, one ﬁre certificate shall be required for premises put to any of the following uses: (a) public residential accommodation (b) for the purpose of entertainment, recreation, or as a club; (c) as a place of work; (d) as an institution providing health treatment or care for infants, disabled or aged persons; (e) for the purpose of teaching, training or research; and (f) for a purpose which involves access to the premises by members of the public, whether on payment or not.”
The trend analysis also indicated that more than GH¢402 million worth of public and private property have been lost to fire outbreaks in the country in the past 10 years, the GNFS statistics revealed.
The figure is less than the GH¢38.3 million worth of property that was salvaged by the GNFS within the same period.
The Daily Graphic’s analysis of the fire statistics revealed that the loss and damage occurred from 59,933 reported incidents of fire outbreaks from 2013 to 2022.
The statistics further shows that 3,104 people were killed in fire-related incidents within the period, with 2,668 of such deaths occurring from road traffic crashes.
Though staggering, the situation may just be a tip of the iceberg as Mr Osafo-Affum said most fire outbreaks went unreported and, therefore, were not recorded by the service.
The highest loss and damages occurred in 2016, resulting in GH¢97.2 million costs.
This was followed by 2022, when GH¢63.8 million was lost to fire incidents; with GH¢40.5 million being recorded in 2021 and GH¢39.4 million last year as cost of property lost.
As shown by the statistics, 2017 recorded the fifth worst damages of GH¢36.3 million, while 2018 and 2015 followed with GH¢31 million and 28.3 million respectively.
Also, 2013 recorded GH¢25.1 million in losses while 2019 and 2014 had GH¢24 million and GH¢16.5 million respectively.
Good call, but…
When the Daily Graphic contacted the President of the Ghana Institute of Planners (GIP), Mohammed Alhassan, on the issue, he described the move by the GNFS to implement measures to curb domestic fire outbreaks as a step in the right direction, given that fire disasters were inimical to sustainable development.
However, he said, the GNFS needed to tread cautiously to avoid creating another layer of bureaucracy that would worsen the current permit acquisition situation.
Mr Alhassan said while it might sound good on paper, implementing a fire permit regime for all persons seeking to put up private accommodation might only be effective in the urban areas of the country, since the GNFS did not have the men to police enforcement.
Again, he said, apart from bureaucracy, such an initiative would increase the cost of construction.
“The argument will be that safety of lives matters, and that is true; but this initiative cannot be well implemented,” he said.
The planner observed that there were root causes of domestic fire outbreaks that had to be dealt with in a holistic manner.
Mr Alhassan said instead of creating another layer of fire safety permitting, the GNFS should rather strive to be involved in post-construction processes leading to issuance of occupancy certification.
He said the enforcement of occupancy certification, where issues of safety standards would be examined, was weak so the GNFS should take advantage of that space.
“There is a huge opportunity there for the GNFS to take advantage of since the enforcement regime there is weak,” Mr Alhassan said.