Concern as gas cylinders fuel burns crisis in Kenya

Fire Fighter Jose Ngunjiri of African Fire Mission and Lieutenant Cyrus Kalemunguruk of November Rapid Response Team demonstrating first safety skills on handling of gas cylinders during the Fire Safety and Burns Awareness Week 2021 organised by Burn & Fire Safety Forum. PHOTO/Aggrey Omboki, The Scholar Media Africa.

David Ole Kaiyo remembers the demise of his sister like it was yesterday.
“I mourn for the passing of my sister. Her death was so unexpected and painful,” he says.
According to the businessman and cattle farmer, the sister got into a heated disagreement with her husband.

The bitter exchange ended in a gas explosion and a fire.
“The couple’s house caught fire in the fight, and they sustained critical burns. They were rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital, where they later passed on,” he said.
Mr Ole Kaiyo was left with the couple’s young daughter, Naisiaye, who escaped the tragedy.
Mr Ole Kaiyo strongly believes that there is a limit to anger in every quarrel.
“You don’t need to resort to acts of violence after disagreeing with your loved ones. It is just not worth someone’s life,” he said.
With its growing popularity in the urban areas, the Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinder has come to symbolize the rapid transformation in the lives of upwardly mobile Kenyans.
Its almost ubiquitous presence in both the homes of the middle class and other less monied citizens signals the switch from firewood and charcoal to the less smoky and cumbersome gas flame.
Just as its presence symbolizes efficient cooking, it has also literally proved to be an often deadly enemy.
It has emerged that gender based violence is fuelling the current increase in burns cases.
Too often, the gas cylinder has featured in gruesome stories about couples fighting and tragically setting it off in the heat of the quarrels.
It is also the main culprit in scald burns among children who make up the bulk of burns patients.
Plastic and reconstructive surgery consultant Dr Benjamin Wabwire says the gas cylinder is the main cause of burn cases admitted at the Kenyatta National Hospital.    
“Gas related accidents are the leading cause of burns that we admit at the hospital,” said the surgeon.
According to firefighter and safety advocate Jose Ngunjiri of the Africa Fire Mission, a gas cylinder explosion is not very different from that of a bomb.
“A gas explosion is a terrible sight to see. It can tear off the roof, burn household items to a pile of ash or even crack walls and windows,” says Mr Ngunjiri.
He asked Kenyans to ensure they open the windows of their houses in the mornings for some minutes before switching the gas on. This, he said, would allow any leaked gas to escape the house.
His colleague, veteran firefighter Mr Stephen Mwai recounted a fire tragedy which involved an unsuspecting mother who came home to a gas leak.
“When she returned home after a busy day at work, she did not immediately notice there was a funny smell around her house. As soon as she switched on the light, it ignited the fumes and there was a mighty explosion,” said the Fire Department official.
A horrific sight greeted the firemen who responded to a distress call placed by the woman’s neighbours.
“By the time we arrived at the scene, the force of the explosion had thrown the woman out of the house, down two floors to the ground. In the process, she also passed by the scene colliding with bits and pieces of other things. Fragments of the parts of the house she collided with could be seen on her body,” said Mr Mwai.
He said he had long given up on the idea of barricading the front door of his residence with a grill.
“Kenyans are so scared of thieves that they spend a fortune barricading their front doors. It is these same doors that make it so hard for firemen to break into the burning houses and rescue the occupants,” he said.

L-R: Dr. Shaban Saidi, chairman of Burn Society of Kenya giving an appreciation hamper to gas explosion survivor, John Kariuki for sharing his story of courage, during the Fire Safety and Burns Awareness Week 2021 organised by Burn & Fire Safety Forum. PHOTO/Aggrey Omboki, The Scholar Media Africa.

“I decided long ago never to continue with that mistake because I know what risk fire carries in such situations.”
Mr James Mitito of the Kenya Power Pension Fund sounded an alarm on the increasing incidences of sexual and gender-based violence in Kenyan homes.
“We note with concern that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put considerable pressure on the social fabric, with homes being the worst affected in terms of violence and sexual assault,” said Mr Metito.
He called for concerted action among the citizens, law enforcement officers, civil society organizations and other stakeholders to contain and eliminate the vice.
On his part, KNH chief executive Dr Evans Kamuri said the key to better treatment outcomes was getting patients with burns to hospital on time.
“For proper burns management, we need to get patients to the facility on time,” said Dr Kamuri.
In a speech read by Dr John Ngige, the KNH Prime Care Clinic (KPCC) director, the referral facility boss admitted that the nation faced a growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which include accident injuries.
“The national burden of NCDs is immense and cases are rising. Almost 20,000 cases occur every year,” he said in his speech to mark the Burns Awareness Week.
The event is sponsored by the Burns Society of Kenya (BSK).
According to the chairman of BSK, Dr. Shaban Saidi, the Ministry of Health reported 213,770 burn cases in 2020 compared to 248,962 reported cases in 2019 and 185,539 reported cases in 2018.
He attributed the significant decrease in reported cases in 2020 at the peak of the pandemic due to the reluctance of casualties to visit hospitals.
Plastic Surgeon Dr Loise Kahoro, who is the secretary of BSK confirmed that the campaign is set to close on Friday.
“The awareness campaign is themed “Zingatia Usalama wa Jamii” and will be focusing on gender violence-related burns and reducing gas explosions which were on the increase last year,” says Dr Kahoro.
Meanwhile, the cylinder is home to another threat, according to medics and safety experts.
KNH hospital data released by Dr Kamuri shows some 698 patients were admitted to the largest referral facility in East and Central Africa last year.

Dr Kamuri revealed that one in five, or 20 percent of the patients, succumbed to their injuries.
“At least 20 percent of the admitted burns patients died,” said Dr Kamuri.
He added that 58 percent of the patients were males.
Of these, Dr Kamuri said that 48 percent were boys aged below five.
He said the data had shown the statistical risk for burns from fire-related accidents was higher for boys or males aged under five.
“Children sustain injuries from gas fires, electrical fires and inhalation burns. Being a male child is clearly a risk when it comes to fire-related accidents,” said the CEO.
Most of the burn patients were from Kiambu and Nairobi Counties.
Children sustained more scalds than other age groups with 85 percent of patients being scald burns for children below 5 years.
LPG fire incidents were on the increase as well as gender violence related burns.

Most, or at least seven out of every ten patients were from Nairobi and Kiambu counties.

Some 72 percent of all burns came from Nairobi mainly from Kibra, Kayole, Mathare, Kawangware, Mukuru and Pipeline.
Poor treatment follow-up and a weak referral system have also contributed to the poor patient outcomes.
Dr Wabwire said KNH was hopeful for the completion of the Burns Centre that will cost Sh 3.5 billion to build.
He admitted that the project was running behind schedule due to funding hiccups, but expressed hope that it would soon be completed.
“We are hopeful that funding will be provided to complete the ongoing construction of the burns centre,” he told The Scholar Media Africa.
The medic said the project was designed to specifically cater for burns patients.
He revealed that the equipment for the centre would cost another Sh1.5 billion.
According to the burns management and reconstructive surgery expert, the entire wing would be housed in the five floor building.
“The centre stands on a four storey, five floor building. It contains a large out patient department, and a training centre where medics can learn,” says the surgeon.
“It will have three theatres, 120 beds and 15 special beds for patients in need of critical care.
He said once the centre is complete, it will be one of the largest on the continent.
On his part, Dr Ngige termed the project as a game-changer in burns care in the region.
“With the completion of the comprehensive burns centre, we shall see a revolution in burns care in the region,” he said.
Mr Mwai is asking Kenyans to buy their gas from licensed suppliers.
“Any gas cylinder that was inspected more than eight years ago is not meant to be used. Check the inspection dates and avoid buying gas stored in such cylinders,” he says.
He also urged consumers to follow safety regulations when handling gas cylinders to minimize the risk of explosions and fires.

St John Ambulance First Aiders demonstrating first aid skills at Fire Safety and Burns Awareness Week 2021 organised by Burn & Fire Safety Forum. PHOTO/Aggrey Omboki, The Scholar Media Africa.

The society is carrying out safety awareness campaigns in the informal settlements of Mukuru and other areas of Nairobi in an effort to reduce the incidence of fire accidents.  
Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the family and surviving minor involved in the accident that claimed the lives of both parents.

-Ensure that the gas cylinder is purchased from authorized dealer.

-Locate and label the gas switch valves.

-Turn off the gas valve when not using it.

-Strike the matchstick on before turning on the gas and not vice versa.

-Do not switch on the lights or strike a matchstick when you detect a gas leakage in a confined area.

-During a fire disaster, if you smell gas, then leave the building immediately.

-Ensure there is good circulation of air in the room where the gas cylinders are stored.

-If possible, have gas cylinders stored outside the house.

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