Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Fire tragedy ignites need for clampdown on illegal gas-filling plants

Published:Sunday | October 23, 2016 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
Emeleo Ebanks
Julian Robinson

The unfortunate tragedy of losing yet another of Jamaica's youth because of the irresponsible action of others has sparked the need for stricter regulations to extinguish illegal operations.

Sanjay Williams, a 14-year-old special-needs child, was the latest victim to have succumbed to his injuries following a huge explosion at an illegal gas-filling plant on Jacques Road, off Mountain View Avenue in St Andrew, last Sunday. Forty-eight-year-old Everett Austin also died, while three others are still admitted in the hospital in critical condition.

Several properties were also severely damaged, leaving numerous persons homeless.

"It's a great tragedy, a great tragedy," declared Julian Robinson, member of parliament for the area.

"I was actually away when the incident took place. I came back yesterday (Friday) and I went to the community today (Saturday) to visit the area and the families. The first priority from my perspective is trying to assist the families that have been affected."

He continued, "Two sets of families, about 12 persons in total, lost every single thing. Their entire homes were burnt down. Today, we got some books, uniforms, shoes and other material

for the children, but they have an immediate need in terms of housing because they have pretty much been 'kotching' with friends."


Residents urged to speak out


He urged residents in his South East St Andrew constituency, in addition to citizens across Jamaica, to speak out against actions that are unlawful, noting that illegal operations have serious consequences, especially for the vulnerable.

"Going forward, there's a larger issue in dealing with illegal gas operations like this. It's something that the police will have to be more vigilant in prosecuting because so many people are put at risk when these operations take place. My understanding is that this is something that happens in a number of other communities and, quite frankly, would need to be shut down," he told The Sunday Gleaner.

"If people are aware, they need to speak out. From what I understand, not many persons wanted to talk about this. There's a feeling that you don't want to box bread out of somebody's mouth, but equally, there's huge risk for the entire community if something goes wrong. While we understand that people are trying to make a living, this is something which endangers an entire community."

Emeleo Ebanks, public relations officer at the Jamaica Fire Brigade, was also strident in his appeal, urging citizens to desist from supporting illegal operations that may be taking place in their communities.

"In terms of regulations, that is something we have been working on for some time now, to further assist the Fire Brigade with these kinds of situation. However, we need the assistance of the public because in cases like this one [Jacques Road], persons would have known about the operation, and I am sure there are other operations of similar nature across the island that persons know about, and we still haven't heard anything. Nobody has called us," Ebanks lamented.

"We haven't received calls from the police, local authorities, nobody. Nobody has been calling in to report these situations and this, as we see, is extremely dangerous. I really want to appeal to persons, if it is that you see these operations taking place in your community, do not encourage them, do not purchase anything from them because, without customers, they will cease to operate very soon. Your responsibility is to call the authorities and report these situations."


Meeting for a solution


Meanwhile, Rohan Ambersley, chief executive officer of Gas Pro, announced last week that all three local marketing companies of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) - the others being Petcom and Industrial Gases Limited (IGL) - are to meet to discuss how to stamp out the illegal trade. However, they are awaiting a full report, which resulted in third-degree burns to all the victims. For this reason, he said a date for this meeting is yet to be decided.

Experts at the Jamaica Fire Brigade have determined that a compressor being used to convert and transfer LPG from one of two 1,000-gallon tanks housed in a truck ignited and caused the explosion.

According to the Mountain View police, persons were illegally filling compressed gas cylinders from a storage tank attached to the back of a motor truck. It is reported that during the extraction process, one of the cylinders caught fire and subsequently exploded, leading to a chain reaction of other cylinders igniting.