What more can we do to prevent school fires?

The remains of the students' property after fire burnt one of the boys' dormitories at Vaine high school in Bushenyi District on May 19, 2022.PHOTO/ MILTON BANDIHO

What you need to know:

  • It is also time to ensure that regular fire drills are carried out in schools to better prepare students and that fire prevention and fighting equipment is up to date and in good working condition

Last week, another school fire was reported, this time at Vaine High School in Rwentuha Town Council in Bushenyi District.

Ms Justine Kabandize, the head teacher, said the fire which burnt one of the boys’ dormitories on Thursday started at around 2pm when the students were attending class.

She said it could have been a result of a short-circuit in the dormitory. (See Daily Monitor of May 20, “Students count loses after fire burns Vaine High School dormitory”)

Fortunately this time, there were no students killed or injured by the fire. But not everyone has been this lucky. In March, 14-year-old Emmanuel Muwumba died in a dormitory fire at St Joseph Senior Secondary-Nakanyonyi, a private school in Jinja City.

In February, 12-year-old Matthew Amanya suffocated to death as he attempted to go back to a burning dormitory  to rescue his property at Good Times Primary School in Kawaala Village, Rubaga Division, Kampala. Of course not to mention the property that has been destroyed in these and other fires. This year alone, by March, six schools had caught fire. Who is to say if the one at Vaine High School will be the last or not? The Ministry of Education attributed the rampant fire outbreaks in schools to lack of occupational permits, especially among private schools and hinted that many of these schools don’t follow the guidelines to ensure safety of learners in regard to fires. 

Some of the guidelines which were issued in 2008, in conjunction with police include having emergency exits, security committees, firefighting equipment, and sickbays.

While these guidelines are good, and their implementation is key, more needs to be done to manage this fire crisis. After almost two years of lockdown due to Covid-19, it is possible that some caution could have been thrown to the wind by some institutions in a rush to reopen? Could it be that some key safety precautions were overlooked?

Rather than wait for the next school fire and causalities and then try to figure out what caused it, why don’t the authorities nip this unfortunate trend in the bud by insisting on preventive checks in schools to ensure that all is well, that all safety guidelines are being followed and that there is adequate disaster preparedness?

It is also time to ensure that regular fire drills are carried out in schools to better prepare students and that fire prevention and fighting equipment is up to date and in good working condition, otherwise we shall keep losing learners and property to school fires and still go down the should-have, could-have, would-have been post-mortem lane which solves absolutely nothing.


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