University, fire officials share fire prevention plans for March

Earthquakes, global health emergencies, inclement weather—these are some of the incidents that the University faced in the past year. As the cool Amihan breeze wanes in February, March signifies the beginning of the summer months. And with it, another hazard: fire.

DLSU itself is not safe from the danger of fire, evident from incidents in recent months. Last December, a residential area along Leveriza St.—just behind St. Joseph Hall—was razed by a terrible fire, which displaced more than 230 families and threatened to spread to the campus.

More recent fires, especially along the narrow streets of Leon Guinto and Leveriza—even in high-rise condominium buildings—are sobering reminders that these incidents are not going to be uncommon experiences for students and residents living within the vicinity of the University.

A watchful eye

Alleviating student fears has been the task of the University Safety Office (USO). USO Director Ronald Dabu reveals that the Manila Campus is not the only campus his office oversees; the Rufino Campus in Bonifacio Global City and the Makati Campus are also within his jurisdiction. The Laguna Campus, on the other hand, is being monitored by their own safety officers, who also coordinate with Dabu’s office.

Yet despite being separate campuses, Dabu explains that they all share the same safety and security protocols and manuals.

Among those protocols is the Incident Command System, which he says was activated during the fire along Leveriza St. Once initiated, the University protocol automatically places Vice Chancellor for Administration Dr. Arnel Uy, who Dabu says serves as the Incident Command Officer in this scenario, responsible for whatever action the University needs to take to control the situation.

The USO Director also highlights the University’s preparedness in terms of fire prevention: fire hydrants, thousands of fire extinguishers, and the University-owned firefighting equipment all stand at the ready for emergency response. Additionally, Dabu reveals that the fire trucks and personnel “equipped with firefighting knowledge” were provided by a private security agency.

Despite having hired personnel, Dabu laments that the University’s own employees are ill-prepared when it comes to firefighting and handling the University-owned fire trucks. “We [only] have limited personnel who are equipped and authorized to use the fire truck,” he shares.

Across Taft

Beyond the edges of the campus though, the risk of a fire suddenly igniting in nearby barangays is perhaps far greater, making it crucial to take precautionary measures. Brgy. 729, which is only a street away from St. La Salle Hall, recently installed two large water tanks to help put out any future fires, Councilor Jesus Robles shares, with one stationed near Leveriza St. and the other on Harrison Plaza St.

Photo by Arden Bacallan

While other surrounding barangays also have precautionary plans to reduce the risk of fire, Brgy. 730 Chairperson Antonio Abad expresses his relief that a bigger share of the responsibility is burdened by local firemen.  “Sa ngayon, wala [namang] problema kapag may sunog. Marami nang [matatawagan],” he shares.

(Right now, there are not many problems [we experience] when it comes to fire. There are a lot of authorities who we can call [if we need help].)

On the other hand, Marilou Llantino—who became Brgy. 728 chairperson just this year—admits that her office has only started implementing this year’s plans for fire prevention. She says that the supplies her barangay prepared are several first aid kits and medical supplies, with two fire extinguishers having also been brought in. Additionally, Llantino plans to conduct her own fire safety seminar for her barangay personnel once their budget is released.

The University also has a hand in helping the barangays prepare for fire incidents, Dabu reveals. They, in collaboration with nearby condominiums and barangays, have a yearly mapping plan on possible locations communities can evacuate to in case of fire incidents  “para during a major fire, alam natin saan tatakbo ‘yung community—saan tatakbo ‘yung mga [condominium residents], saan tatakbo ‘yung La Salle.”

(So that during a major fire, we would know where the community can evacuate to—where the condominium residents will go; where Lasallians will seek safety.)

Additionally, Dabu mentions their partnership with the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in conducting seminars and drills on fire prevention to DLSU faculties and local barangays. Llantino expresses her appreciation for being part of some of the University’s drills, where she was able to learn about basic life support and firefighting.

All about control

The Paco Fire Substation is one of the units of the BFP. They are also the ones that usually respond to fire incidents along Taft Ave. Fire Officer (FO) III Terence Benito explains that beyond emergency response, the unit gives added emphasis to fire prevention. “Pumupunta kami, nagpapa-seminar. Pagkatapos ng seminar, may workshop [kami] tapos may drill,” he says.

(We go there and conduct seminars. After the seminar, there is a workshop, which is also followed by a drill.)

He mentions that these drills and seminars are being administered to both local barangays and schools within their jurisdiction, similar to what the USO does with the local community.

Additionally, the Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008, which ensures the public’s safety against fire incidents by setting up a guideline for institutions to follow, requires establishments employing at least 50 people to have formal education in dealing with fire prevention and fire fighting.

His fellow coworker, FO III Jerlou Cadiz, emphasizes that educating the barangay locals is invaluable in protecting against fires. While firefighters are definitely more trained in handling fire incidents, barangay personnel are usually the ones who spot and report incidents first.

Sila ‘yung mauunang rum-espond ‘din bago kami. So kapag alam na nila ‘yung gagawin, kahit papaano, mako-control agad ‘yung sunog,” he stresses.

(They will be the first ones to respond. So if they know what to do, in some way, the spread of the fire could be controlled immediately.)

In a school setting, Cadiz underlines the roles of faculty members in case of a fire. “Ang tinuturuan namin talaga [sa] school ‘yung [employees]. Kasi hangga’t maaari, ‘yung estudyante kasi iniiwasan natin masaktan,” he reasons.

(Who we focus on when teaching in schools are the employees. As much as possible, we try to minimize the involvement of students to prevent harm.)

The USO Director echoes Cadiz’s sentiment, emphasizing, “Property can be replaced, but life cannot be replaced. Iyon ‘yung importante.”

(That’s what’s important.)

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