Rising from the Ashes: Logistics and Fire Safety

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November 25, 2013

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Quick question: do you know how to operate a fire extinguisher? Can you remember the three fire extinguishers closest to you at work or school (I assume you’re pursuing your Masters. Education never ends)? Are you aware of the fire exit points in your favorite mall or restaurant?

I’m willing to bet the answer to most, if not all of these questions was “no”, an unfortunate representation of the current state of fire safety in Kenya. With large scale blazes such as the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport fire or the more recent smaller scale fire in Makina, Kibera slums that thankfully claimed no lives; we have faced our fair share of fiery challenges as a country. With fire safety gaining more exposure in light of these tragedies, it is important for all industries across the board to analyze their approach to the matter.

Fire safety in the logistics industry begins in the warehouse. Here, supply chain managers are careful to assess the risk of and potential damage from a possible fire, then take steps to prevent fires, or ensure minimal damage would occur in the event a fire did break out. This includes large scale measures, such as switching to less flammable packaging materials or installing smoke detectors within the building, set to automatically trigger fire sprinkler systems, which would be invaluable, should a fire occur when no employees are present to take action.

Supply chain managers must also ensure that warehouses meet health and safety guidelines set by industry regulators or the government, by ensuring that steps such as having the recommended number and type of fire extinguishers in warehouses, clearly marking fire escape routes, regularly inspecting firefighting equipment to ensure it is still in working condition, and the like.

Photo Credit: Examiner.com

Photo Credit: Examiner.com

It is also the duty of supply chain managers to see to it that employees are trained on fire safety. This includes how to use equipment such as extinguishers, the proper protocol to follow when a fire is spotted, different types of fires and measures taken to stop them e.g. electrical fires versus oil fires, and the like. Employees must also be trained on how to protect themselves in case of fires, such as by staying lower than the smoke, and how to treat those burned or suffering from smoke inhalation. Having employees trained to properly react to threats of fire can not only save logistics firms millions in damages, it may also save lives.

Fire safety in freighting is also a concern, especially for supply chain managers dealing with transportation of highly flammable cargo, such as petroleum products. Here, industry standards of safety must be adhered to, combined with careful employee training and taking every precaution possible to ensure the safety of employees and bystanders in case of the worst.

Outside the confines of individual supply chain management firms, the logistics as a function plays a crucial role in promoting fire safety. Fire departments across the world use supply chain management skills to determine the best route to the scene of an emergency. Deciding on a mode of transportation to be used is also necessary, as in some cases fire trucks will not suffice, for instance in the event of bush fires that require aerial firefighting techniques due to road accessibility issues and time constraints.

The same concerns also apply in evacuating people from fire zones, in that logistical decisions must be made on how to remove them from harm, and get immediate medical for those in need of it via ambulances that rely on the same logistical principles. Similarly, dependent on the logistics function is delivery of emergency supplies to help tide over victims of tragic fires, such as fresh water, clothing, or temporary shelter in the form of tents.

While Kenya may not have had the best track record in terms of managing fires in the recent past, we choose to look at the tragedies as learning experiences that have left us better prepared to deal with the possibility of such infernos in the future; leaving a stronger nation to rise from the ashes. As the logistics industry continues to support efforts to fire safety efforts and protect ourselves from the effects and possibility of fires, we urge you to take stock of your living and working environment with a critical eye and ask yourself: are you really as safe as you can be from a fire?


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