The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Fire Disaster - How Safe Are Our Nightspots?

SINCE last Friday, December 21, twenty workers are unemployed while about 600 fans of their nightclub located at Muhanga will be obliged to drive to Kigali or Huye to have fun during this festive season.

Orion Club, the only nightclub in Muhanga district, was gutted by fire after a suspected short circuit, inflicting a loss of Rwf150 million to Gildas Ukwigize., the owner.

"Besides what was destroyed by the fire, not operating during the festive season is a huge loss. I used to make at least Rwf10 million between Christmas and New Year".

This nightspot became the latest club to be affected by fire, after the former B-Club, Cadillac and Downtown Pizzeria, all located in Kigali.

Some of these hangouts have since been rehabilitated and are playing host to revelers this festive season. It is during this season that traffic is normally high but fears about another fire disaster linger.

It is worth noting that no single life has been lost in all these fire incidents.

Owners of nightspots that were not affected say they have learnt a lot and have since taken appropriate measures to prevent future fires.

Remy Nsanga, the owner of La Planète, one of the famous discotheques located at Kigali Business Centre, commonly known as KBC, said, "We couldn't wait for the fire to surprise us. First of all, we hired two qualified electrical engineers who are permanently on standby to prevent incidents like short circuits which are responsible for most of the fires."

Nsanga said they have also signed a contract with a company that supplies fire extinguishers.

That company, he said, will be replacing fire extinguishers at the end of every year to make sure they have valid and reliable fire-fighting equipment.

On people's safety, Nsanga said they have added two emergency exits to help their clients escape in case of fire outbreak.

"Some nightclubs tend to neglect power yet it's a core element in our business," he said, disclosing that La Planète spends more than Rwf50, 000 on power units every night.

A manager at Blessing Resto Bar, a popular hangout in Kimironko, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "Some bar owners opt for cheap, fake equipment like speakers which do not resist heat and may end up bursting into flames."

This manager, who transforms his restaurant into a disco during the weekends, largely blamed fire outbreaks on what he described as "carelessness of club owners" because the electronic equipment they use have a warning system in case they get over-heated.

He added, "In most cases it is our equipment that cause these fire incidents, we shouldn't blame anybody else."

Experts' take

Some people argue that nightclubs consume a lot of power with amplifiers, fridges and air conditioners, without forgetting the discotheque lighting, plus the kitchen stoves.

However, electrical experts say poor cabling system in most public facilities make them vulnerable to fire.

"They use powerful electrics with very weak cables that cannot support them," said Raphaél Muzungu, an electrical engineer at Kigali International Airport.

Supt. Bertin Mutezintare, the Commanding Officer of Fire and Rescue Brigade at the Rwanda National Police, told The New Times they are conducting a sensitisation campaign at different hangouts, urging owners to reduce such devices to help minimise fire incidences.

Geoffrey Kabuta, a fire fighting specialist with Mugolds International Ltd, a company that offers fire risk management solutions, said that city residents, especially those owning entertainment facilities, should equip their employees with fire safely skills.

"We have started working closely with the Rwanda Bureau of Standards to see how we can raise that awareness," he said.

Mid September, last year, RBS published findings on substandard cables, and ordered the traders to re-ship them back from where they were imported.

According to RBS, substandard electrical cables can easily lead to fire outbreaks because they are weaker than the original ones.

Electrical engineers call upon people to also consider the expiry date of the cables they purchase, because when they are expired, they don't serve the purpose they are meant to.

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