Fiji Fire safety message hasn't got through | Pacific Beat

Fiji Fire safety message hasn't got through

Fiji Fire safety message hasn't got through

Updated 11 January 2013, 12:54 AEDT

Fiji's National Fire Authority is frustrated that people don't seem to have got the message about fire safety over the holidays.

In December the NFA launched a public awareness campaign about the dangers of naked flames in homes, in the wake of several horrific house fires in which children were killed.

But John O'Connor, CEO of the NFA, tells Bruce Hill that little seems to have changed, so they may have to redouble their efforts to persuade Fijians to change their habits

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker: John O'Connor, CEO of the Fiji National Fire Authority.

O'CONNOR: Most of the fires that we attended to were caused by children playing with matches, unattended cooking, candles and beer and kerosene stoves and lamps eh and these are fires which could have easily been avoided had just a bit of extra care been taken by those in those properties eh and therefore our message was really in terms of awareness was focused at trying to implicate information to members of the community to bring about a change in their attitude and behaviour towards fire safety.

HILL: Well, given that there have been a number of fires in houses similar to things caused by the causes that you mentioned since then. Have people really got the message?

O'CONNOR: Yeah, unfortunately in this period the National Fire Authority has had to attend to to structural fires and the majority again of these fires were of similar causes. Well, to the National Fire Authority it seems that all this information, all that, that we are putting all this is not really getting into the members of the community, and allowing them to think about it and change yeah. So we are really say looking at the strategies in terms of effective communications to the communities eh. In terms of the number of structural fires, in 2011, we attended 206 structural fires. The numbers have dropped down to 95 at the end of 2012, but still a major concern for NFA, because as a result of 95 fires, although there's a reduction, 12 people lost their lives, which is a sad part and seven of those 12 were children.

HILL: Those cases have a particular impact on the community don't they when children die in house fires?

O'CONNOR: Yeah, yeah. It's unfortunately it impacts the community and there's a flow of sympathy message and emotions still hasn't really given a change of attitude that the NFA intended to achieve the result of its awareness program in 2012.

HILL: Given the lifestyles in Fiji, people still rely on things like candles and kerosene lamps and many people, of course, have prayer diyas in their house if they're Hindu. There are a lot of naked flames in Fiji houses, so to a certain extent, isn't this going to happen regardless?

O'CONNOR: Yeah, that's the other part of in terms of the reforms we are currently doing, to look at the current legislation that we have and how can we control such a presence of naked flames, how can we in terms of legislation requirements to drive this change of behaviour. Also looking at preventative rather than reactive. Our current legislation focuses on majority of regions are focused on the provisions of fire services. We want to in terms of reforms undertaken look at the proactive side and preventative rather than responding.

HILL: There have been some particularly horrific house fires, especially those where children have lost their lives and what seems to happen is that people weep and wail and beat their chests for a day or two, but then they go back to the same old habits. It doesn't seem to have any long term impact. Why is that?

O'CONNOR: That's one of our major concerns, is that at the moment we don't have current provisions which allow us to investigate and determine where there's any cause for negligence and carelessness and provisions for us to take that case further. Our culture is structured that if something happens to you which can impact you personally, then may drive a change of behaviour, so in terms of our strategies, we're going to put out information, awareness, and we will hope to visit homes and villages and settlements where this occurrence is prevails and then drive a message and then hopefully in terms of the reforms, drive the changes that is required in terms of the requirements in law.

HILL: You'd obviously come across cases where there's been pretty clear negligence. Do you want the power to maybe refer this to the courts and actually take people to court for negligence or is it just one of those things that once it's happened, it's a terrible thing. They've been punished enough.

O'CONNOR: Oh, no that's all part of our legislation. While we sympathise that they've been punished enough, we think that there should be some accountability and responsibility on behalf, especially when we're dealing with children. So in terms of the message that we are coming towards the end of the year, on talkback shows and TV and radio, we are focusing on the accountabilities and responsibilities of parents.



Bruce Hill

Bruce Hill


Bruce is one of the Pacific’s most experienced journalists with nearly 20 years covering the region and has won several international awards.

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