Deadly Kuwait tent fire was avoidable: Scherer

Safety expert calls for a review of regional event policies.
The aftermath of the deadly fire in Kuwait's Jahra area.
The aftermath of the deadly fire in Kuwait's Jahra area.

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Better event safety regulations could have saved the lives of the 46 women and children killed at a Kuwaiti wedding ceremony on Sunday, according to event safety specialist Harald Scherer.

His comments follow the outbreak of a blaze which engulfed a wedding tent during celebrations in the Jahra area, which resulted in the deaths.

Although arson is suspected as the cause behind the fire, Scherer, who is the author of a number of event safety guidebooks, argued that stringent regulations could have prevented loss of life.

“People probably could have been rescued or would not have been affected at all, if there were established processes in place to identify and control risks, with the appropriate action taken behind them,” he said.

“The wide open gap between ideas and existing rules and regulations in the [Middle East] region still don’t match international standards.

“How can authorities take action and demonstrate care for event safety when there is neither a general up-to-date rule or standard, and no defined processes applied to granting permissions for events, apart from having certified equipment or trained staff to set it up?”

Simple safety procedures such as the reduction of combustible materials, careful placement of the temporary structure and an adequate amount of emergency exits can help prevent such tragedies, said Scherer.

In the Jahra incident, the 200-person capacity tent was equipped with just a single exit.

“It was a horrific scene with bodies and shoes stuck to the ground at the only exit,” Jassem Al Mansouri, chief brigadier general of Kuwait’s Fire Department told AP. “They must have trampled over one another.”

Kuwaiti authorities have responded to the tragedy, with the Fire Department issuing internal instructions for all tents erected during the Holy Month of Ramadan to be inspected by authorities.

According to Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA, deputy director of human resources development, brigadier Yousif Al-Ansari, has reminded Fire Department staff that an extinguisher must be found in each tent, wiring should be inspected and emergency exits should be appropriately placed.

He also recommended that tents be placed near water sources.

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