THE ROLE OF COMMUNICATION ON FIRE SAFETY MANAGEMENT: A STUDY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GHANA COMMUNITY

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CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION

  • BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

Fire safety management is a legal responsibility of an owner or occupier of a building having control over the premises, taking reasonable actions to prevent a fire outbreak, and protecting the lives of people in the occurrence of a fire. The occupiers have to know the importance of their responsibilities and the suitable action to take in the occurrence of fire outbreak. (Chow, 2001 cited by Amoako 2014). In this regard, buildings are conceived of as complex systems which require communication networks to ensure the safety of occupants. Any communication intended for fire safety must be in accord with a systems framework in order to be effective.

The systems framework or systems approach means the design of the communication system must be integrated into the functioning of the whole building. Consequently, this requires the development of alternative safety approaches. These approaches, especially when combined with partial evacuation, have highlighted the importance of effective communication in building safety (Nadzim and Taib, 2014).

Fire is known as a main threat to the activities of universities. In terms of management, buildings and densely populated communities like universities need to lay emphasis on fire safety for their buildings. Educational buildings are one category of government assets that should be protected

against fires, because they play an important role as temporary common gathering places for students, teachers and communities. It is acknowledged that fires are not only a threat to occupants of the buildings, but also to the properties and the general environment (Nadzim and Taib, 2014).

  • Communication

According to Keyton (2011) communication is “the process of transmitting information and common understanding from one person to another” (Owusu, 2014). Communication therefore refers to the transfer of messages from one person to another or a group of persons through any medium. It is the process of sharing information among two or more individuals or groups which leads to the desired conclusion. The aims of communications among others are to provide information, seek information, persuade or express feelings through appropriate gestures and language. Communication is said to be effective when it obtains an ideal outcome, response, or feedback. The information shared should be transmitted and received efficiently without the proposed meaning being distorted or altered.

Generally, people have diverse ways in communicating with each other. This may be interpersonal, group and mass communications. The United States National Wildlife Fire Communication and Education Guide (1999) identified the different methods used by people to exchange information as “communication networks”. Some of the networks such as the internet, radio, television, newspapers or advertisement are formal and established. Additionally, the

individual communities maintain an amount of effective but informal “communication networks”. These informal “communication networks” are part of all cultures and communities. They are trustworthy, effective, well-organized and easily identified. It is therefore important for the Fire Service Department to identify these “communication networks” and use them to share information.

Communication and communications systems are also significant to safe and effective performance at the fire incident scene. Communications is a fundamental and quickly progressing aspect in the operations of the Fire Service. The evolution of sophisticated appliance, systems for incident command, and congestion of radio frequency amongst other forces are inspiring change, and it is more crucial for the Fire Service officers to acquire knowledge of communications systems and strategies. Other information technology such as portable fax machines, automatic vehicle location, computerized dispatch, vast computer hardware, and more sophisticated software available is also changing rapidlyas well as international standards for communications. These changes and many more require Fire Service Departments worldwide to be well-informed with communications technologies. (Fire Department Communications  Manual, Communication is also said to be the ‘life blood’ of an organization. It is a means by which institutions and organizations bring out changes in people’s attitude, motivate them, establish and maintain mutual relationships with their publics. The Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) is a typical Fire Service Department or organization in Africa. It was established by Act 537, (GNFS Act of 1997) to help realize a general objective of “prevention and management of undesired

fires and other related matters”.

  • Communication Strategy

A communication strategy is defined “as a well-planned series of actions aimed at achieving specific objectives through the use of communication methods, techniques, and approaches” (Mefalopulos and Kamlongera 2004) cited by Mefalopulos (2008 p: 114). According to Mefalopulos it is very essential to know that the starting point of a strategy is neither the “audience nor the message”. He presented stages for planning an effective communication strategy by the illustration of dealing with the deforestation caused by farmers who use fires to clear the grounds at the environs of the forest area.

A study conducted to explain and measure the farmer’s attitude, knowledge, and practices. The results showed the farmers did not have any precise purpose to set fire to the forest rather they have limited knowledge about fire safety technique when clearing their fields and lacked knowledge of the consequences in burning the forest. The communication strategy was therefore designed to provide fire safety training for the farmers of the area and raise the awareness and knowledge of the farmers and other stakeholders about the important of preserving the forest.

  • The role of Communication

The use of peculiar fire alarm systems has been a major way of communicating an outbreak of fire. Fire alarm systems came into existence with the origination of the telegraph so the communities were given the telegraph-alarm system. Telephone call boxes were also used. Invariably, private telephones are now used largely to report fire outbreaks. Fire alarms systems basically transmit the same message to each and every one during fires outbreaks. However,

there are numerous types of signals that could be employed to communicate outbreaks of fire; with each signal consisting of a unique set of instructions to a particular group of persons.

Communication is a major tool used by Fire Service Departments to achieve the goal of public fire safety education.To perform the task of creating and sustaining awareness on hazards of fire it is important for the Ghana National Fire Service to provide their publics with accurate information which will enable them to participate in the various aspects of fire safety management.

  • Causes of fire outbreak

According to Antwi (2013) fire outbreak is possibly the most severe hazard that Ghana experience currently (Amoako, 2014). Naturally, fuel, heat and oxygen are the three basic elements needed to start fire. These three elements are called the fire triangle and for any fire to ignite and continue burning, it is necessary to have them in their right quantities. A fire cannot start if any one of these elements is omitted. Therefore, there is the need to avoid the three elements coming together. “Ultimately fire can be prevented or extinguished by removing any one of the elements in the fire triangle” (Twumasi, 2013)

Fire outbreaks are generally caused by people through carelessness, ignorance, negligence, malicious ignition among others. This happens when the person handling the fire does not take it seriously and it gets out of hand. Other causes of domestic fires are people smoking in bed near flammable materials, cigarettes not extinguished appropriately, children playing with matches, leaving gas and stove unattended whilst cooking, careless handling of candles, and the use of

faulty electrical gadgets (Abubakar 2012). Giwa (2012) cited by Amoako (2014: p14) found that over 90% of fire outbreaks that occur in Nigeria are initiated by people’s carelessness, and this could be stopped by changing “the values, cultures and practices of the people. Fire outbreak has remained a major disaster not only in Nigeria but the world over. Some of these fire disasters are caused as a result of power surges from electrical wires”.

Other studies Kachenje et al., (2010) shown that non-existence and faulty of firefighting gears, lack of management of fire occurrences and absence of exit routes on high-rise buildings similarly started fire outbreaks.

  • Effects of fire outbreak

The fire disasters experienced in Ghana repeatedly caused remarkable damages, which had negative effect on socio-economic development of the affected communities. The hazards posed by these fires and the devastating effects on life and property underline the establishment of specific institutions to ensure optimum fire safety for the protection of communities and the entire nation.

The Ghana National Fire Service has the legal responsibility and the requisite knowledge in fire safety management and the necessary arrangements and actions that are essential in the prevention of day-to-day fire accidents. The Ghana National Fire Service Statistics (2017) indicate a total of 6214 fire outbreaks occurred in the country in 2015 leading to 67 injuries, 32 deaths and GH¢ 28,282,081 ($64,890) estimated cost of damage. A total of 2,654 domestic fires

were recorded making it the most frequent fire outbreaks in Ghana. This was followed by bush

fires which recorded 846, commercial fires were 742, vehicular fires were 738, electrical fires were 601, industrial fires were 172 and institutional fires were 140.

In 2016, a total of 6841 fire outbreaks occurred in Ghana resulting in 84 injuries, 32 deaths and damage to properties worth GH¢ 96,822,143. Out of this, domestic fire was leading with 2,333, followed by 1817 bush fires, 783 vehicular fires, 722 commercial fires, 597 electrical fires, 159 institutional fires and 150 industrial fires. The statistics indicated an increase of 10.9 % fire outbreaks in 2016 when compared to 2015. There was a decrease in the other nature of fires however; the statistics portray an increase of 13.57% in institutional fires and 114.78% in bush fires.

According to the Ghana National Fire Service these fires have affected not only private households and commercial entities but also government institutions like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices in 2009, Ministry of Defense in 2015, key strategic installations such as the Tema Oil Refinery in 2014 and the Tema Central Medical Stores in 2015, as well as the fire and flood disaster which occurred at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle on June 3, 2015. The spate of institutional, commercials, vehicular, market and industrial fire outbreaks has therefore raised concerns over the state of fire safety management in the country.

  • Fire Safety Management

Nadzim and Taib (2014) defined fire safety management as the mixture or co-ordinating of activities or programmes towards the prevention of injuries and damages from any fire occurrence. Such programmes consist of fire drill training, fire prevention (housekeeping, periodic inspection etc), escape routes, staff training among others. They gave reasons why fire safety management systems must be put in place at educational buildings to avert any fire outbreaks.

  1. Importance of Fire Safety Management

According to DiGuiseppi et al., (2002) the Fire Protection Association of Australia (2004) specifies the importance of “fire safety knowledge in the community’s role in the avoidance and readiness to deal with fire. It is necessary that communities are “provided with training to retain an adequate level of fire safety knowledge. It is also important that people retain an adequate level of knowledge about the importance of maintaining functional fire safety equipment” (Amoako, 2014).

According to the British Institute of Facilities Management Good PracticeGuide (2016), fire safety management is of the utmost importance within an organization since majority of fires are preventable. When the fire occurs then the potential losses can result in a majority of organizations never recovering. It is therefore important for organizations and institutions to  have an effective fire safety management system. The Guide requires that employers, occupiersand owners of all buildings as well as persons responsible for the management of these

buildings should ensure Fire Safety Policy or Fire Strategy, Fire Risk Assessment and Maintenance schemes are in place to ensure fire safety.

The Fire Safety Policy or Fire Strategy is to show how the organization will prevent fire and manage fire safety. The organization should also be able to exhibit they have a policy not just for the general running of their business but also that they consider fire safety very important and have preventive and protective measures in place. The fire risk assessment process is the most important means for identifying fire hazards, ensuring proper preventative and protective measures have been put in place, followed by maintenance and review of fire safety. This will indicate that the organization has identified all of the hazards present in the building, the people that may be affected and have sufficient controls to reduce the fire safety risk. The assessment will also help persons responsible for fire safety recognize risks that can either be removed or reduced and to decide the general fire safety precautionsthat need to be in use to protect people against any fire risks that remain. The Maintenance scheme will equally ensure that assets within the building are maintained in accordance with statutory requirements.

The main objectives of fire safety management comprise of ensuring that fire safety procedures “are kept in good order; to initiate actions which in case of fire would help occupants to reach a safe place; and to review adequacy of existing fire safety measures where there is a change of building, a change of building use and new technology on fire services installation” (Chow, 2002 cited by Amoako, (2014).

While Chow (2002) does not expressly acknowledge or address the role of communication, the realization of these objectives, it may be argued, is inevitably linked to the role of communication in creating public awareness and developing the skills requisite for fire safety management. Thus, this study assesses the role of communication in fire safety management using the community of University of Ghana, Legon.

  • STATEMENT OF THE RESEARCH PROBLEM

A study undertaken by Agyekum et al (2016) revealed that awareness of fire safety management precautionary measures was low among most of the student occupants of multi-storey hostels and the likelihood of extreme danger to lives and properties in any fire occurrence was high.

Ayarkwa and Danso (2010) also identified a number of factors, including institutional lapses, non-adherence to basic fire safety practices and resource limitations of the Ghana National Fire Service as contributing largely to the frequent fire outbreaks in the country.

This may explain the observation by Kahwa (2009) that there had been a trend of increasing incidences of fires and their consequences in educational and other public institutions in Ghana between 1999 and 2006. This showed that, fire incidences in educational and commercial buildings in Ghana resulted from negligence and lack of public awareness on proper use of firefighting facilities.

The statistics on the University of Ghana are similarly striking. According to the records of the

University of Ghana Fire Station, the University recorded a total of 19 fire outbreaks in 2015 and 20 in 2016. The fires involved the Department of Political Science library, Department of Linguistics and Bani Hostel in 2015 as well as an office at the Balme Library, the Noguchi Memorial Institute, and the University of Ghana Business School in 2016.

By virtue of being a university which accommodates a number of different facility users and the trend of fire outbreaks in buildings, fire incidences are anticipated. However, no study available has attempted to assess the preparedness with regards to fire safety management particularly in universities in Ghana. The question is, to what extent does fire safety receive policy attention and prevention activities within the University of Ghana organizational structures? To what extent are members of the University community aware of and responsive to fire safety systems and procedures generally and within the campus in particular? What is the role of the Ghana National Fire Service in creating awareness and skills for adhering to fire safety protocols and remedies? It is against this background that this study attempt to assess the role of communication in fire safety management in the University of Ghana community.

  • OBJECTIVES OF THE RESEARCH

The main objective of the research was to assess the effectiveness of communication in fire safety management in the University of Ghana, Legon.

The specific objectives of the research were to:

  1. Assess the knowledge of members of the University of Ghana community in fire safety management.
  • Find out the availability and nature of the University of Ghana organizational policy on fire safety management.
  • Assess the Ghana National Fire Service role in creating awareness for adhering to fire safety precautionary measures.
  • Ascertain how the Ghana National Fire Service uses communication to carry out its mandate in the University of Ghana community.
  • RESEARCH QUESTIONS

The major questions in this study were the following;

  1. What do members of the University of Ghana community know in fire safety management?
  2. What if any, is the University of Ghana organizational policy on fire safety management?
  3. What role is the Ghana National Fire Service playing in creating awareness on fire safety precautionary measures?
  4. How does the Ghana National Fire Service use communication to mitigate emergencies posed to the University of Ghana community?
  • SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESEARCH

Fire outbreaks occur without any notification. In Ghana, the frequency of such occurrence suggests a deficiency of fire safety management resulting in unrecovered physical and psychological damages to the affected communities.

The research will become a source of information for fire safety policy and management within public institutions and among the larger population. It will also provide addition to existing knowledge with specific reference to the University of Ghana. This would instill fire safety habits in the community leading to reduction of fire incidences and their predicted consequences in Ghana.

The research will also be of significance to the University of Ghana Fire Station in particular and the Ghana National Fire Service in general to come out with appropriate fire safety standard in communities. The implementation on the findings and recommendations in the final report can be the foundation of a structured approach to fire safety management in Ghana.

  • SCOPE OF THE RESEARCH

The research involved administration of questionnaires to a sample of 150 students and staff of the University of Ghana and residents in the community. During the research two (2) personnel of the University of Ghana Fire Station were interviewed. It is therefore worthy to note that the results of the research are limited to the sample and the University of Ghana Fire Station, Legon.

  • ORGANISATION OF THE RESEARCH REPORT

The research report is divided into five chapters. Chapter one contains the introductory aspect of the research which consist of the background, the statement of the research problem, objectivesof the research, research questions, significance and organization of the research. Chapter two reviews existing relevant literature and the theoretical framework of the study. Chapter three describes the research methodology employed. Chapter four contains the presentation and analysis of the data. Chapter five summarizes the key findings of the research, draws conclusion and offers recommendations