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BCCEC chairman urges reform to fire codes

The chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) says downtown Nassau must rethink its building codes before more local businesses go up in smoke.

Due to historical loop-holes and a general lack of regulation, dated buildings along Bay Street are at risk of more incidents under the current system.

Winston Rolle told Guardian Business that changing the existing paradigm might cost businesses money, but doing nothing could be much worse.

“If you take a look at other places in the world, even though a building is historic, appropriate measures are still taken to ensure fire safety,” he said. “It doesn’t have to take away from the aesthetics. It needs to be addressed and managed. I hate to say it, but the fact is a historic property is even more reason to have measures in place.”

One week today, The Bahamas received a grim reminder of the devastating cost of a fire.

The fire at the temporary straw market, ignited in the early morning hours, razed the entire site and heavily damaged two adjacent buildings – including the historic Pompey Museum. The majority of artifacts dealing with slavery and emancipation were lost in the Bay Street blaze, which was the second major fire along the strip in just one year.

Neither building has sprinkler systems.

In a recent speech at the Bahamas Hotel Association’s annual general meeting, Hubert Ingraham, the prime minister, told the crowd “we will introduce and enforce standards and rules to govern the upkeep and maintenence of buildings in the City of Nassau”, although he failed to elaborate exactly what that means. He did insist that the government will not allow burnt-out buildings to mar the landscape for long.

Craig Delancy, the buildings control officer for The Bahamas, told Guardian Business that any structure built prior to 1973, when the first national building codes were brought in, are above these modern standards.

Under the new code, it outlines that any renovated space where the value exceeds 25 percent of the building’s value must be brought up to current codes and standards. New buildings are all subject to the rules as well.

However, with the vast majority of businesses along Bay Street dating before 1973, these structures, packed tightly together, will not be required to meet modern standards anytime soon.

“There is room for improvement,” Delancy explained.

“With the Downtown Nassau Partnership (DNP), whether they are able to revise their regulations or make some mandate for buildings downtown to look at additional measures could make a difference.”

The control officer added that “there is no space to put anything” in terms of fire hydrants or additional water tanks. Sprinkler systems for businesses downtown will come at great cost, he said.

Rolle agreed that the DNP, which plans to turn the temporary straw market area into a town square and green space, could hold considerable sway as the city changes under its development.

He expressed hope that the BCCEC would work with the DNP to realize this goal, among others.

In particular, the pointed out that providing adequate fire safety downtown is not just to protect the buildings, businesses and their owners, but also their life blood – tourists.

“We have to be mindful those establishments are frequented by tourists. There [are] certain liabilities that should be considered as well,” he said.

Looking at businesses downtown as a whole, Rolle felt most adhere to the principal of having working extinguishers on the premises. But tighter regulations are need to ensure modern practices are followed.

Arson has also been suspected in regards to the most recent blaze, Delaney added, indicating that security is equally important and businesses should take care.

“Merchants need to recognize the potential risks of fire and take all precautions they can,” he said.

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