The fire that raged at The Wyndham Kingston hotel early Thursday morning may have some businesses worried about their own ability to respond to an emergency of such magnitude.
We do not believe it alarmist to say that the Wyndham tragedy should serve as a wake-up call for all of corporate Jamaica to ensure that their emergency/disaster plans are fine-tuned and tested and ready for roll-out. There is clearly no room for complacency.
Hotel fires can be complex because they are usually multi-storey buildings with high occupancy levels. From reports, the fire alarm sounded in the guest rooms of the 300-bed property, which was said to be about 70 per cent full at the time.
But having been alerted to the fire, guests complained that the exits designed as evacuation routes were not properly lit and that they had to clamber through a smoke-filled stairwell. They also reported some confusion in locating an assembly point. Thankfully, there was no loss of life and the staff reportedly responded quite professionally in the circumstances.
It took more than six hours for the fire service to suppress and contain the blaze, and two firefighters suffered first-degree burns.
In the assessment of the emergency response, questions must be raised about the non-performance of a truck equipped with a hydraulic platform for fighting fires in high-rise buildings. Also, did the hotel have functioning automatic sprinklers which could have helped to contain the fire at the point of origin?
There are early indications that the damage was extensive to areas such as restaurants, the ballroom and the laundry. The inconvenience to guests and the uncertainty that looms over the operations are all weighty matters which must be occupying the minds of the owners and stakeholders.
And even as the damage is being evaluated, tourism interests must be worried about any fallout from this fire at a foundation property which has played a key role in the important tourism industry over many years.
This is why the remarks made by Director of Tourism Mr John Lynch cannot simply be allowed to slide without a reprimand. In an interview with the media, Mr Lynch had this to say: "It's a real landmark, but it has seen better days, and maybe now is the time to refresh the Wyndham to have it come into its own."
It might be true that the property needs a facelift, but in the midst of coming to grips with the damage of a devastating fire that has caused anxiety for staff, guests and owners, we submit that this comment was inappropriate, insensitive even.
Our public officials have become inured to any fear of being held accountable for their utterances, with the result that the country has become accustomed to hearing a great deal of rubbish roll off their tongues with embarrassing regularity.
In the face of the severity of the matter, Mr Lynch deserves a strong reprimand for those remarks. His tone contrasted sharply with that of his superior, Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill, who acknowledged that a tragedy had occurred and offered a measured assessment of what might be necessary to get the Wyndham back on its feet again.
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