File picture: Soraya Crowie
Cape Town - Thousands of deaths caused annually by informal settlement shack fires could be prevented if a smoke alarm system, piloted at Wallacedene TRC informal settlement near Kraaifontein over the past two years, was implemented across the country.

This emerged at a media briefing where local government, environmental affairs and development planning MEC Anton Bredell, and other speakers, highlighted the project.

“It will not prevent fires; it will not prevent all deaths, but there can be no doubt that it has the potential to save thousands of lives across the country,” said Bredell.

He said the project was known as the “Fire is Everyone’s Fight” campaign and formed part of the Western Cape’s strategic framework for fire and burn prevention.

It involves smoke alarm devices being tested and installed in Wallacedene shacks through a partnership of the provincial government, Stellenbosch University, Santam, the Medical Research Council, Research Alliance for Disaster and Risk Reduction and the community.

“The project was first piloted in the Breede Valley District, and then rolled out in the community of Wallacedene with the support of Santam, who assisted us in providing up to 2000 smoke alarms in that community. The results have been outstanding, with alarms triggered that have led to many lives being saved,” said Bredell.

Western Cape disaster management assistant director Rodney Eksteen said the smoke alarm device’s biggest drawback was its vulnerability to insect infiltration in its openings. Video: Raphael Wolf

He said the project was not a silver bullet that would solve all fire-related challenges, but it showed tremendous promise.

Western Cape disaster management fire and Rescue Unit assistant director Rodney Eksteen said the smoke alarm device’s biggest drawback was its vulnerability to insect infiltration in its openings.

Speaking after a video presentation on shack fires, their aftermath and fire tests in Wallacedene, he said their research found smoke to be the biggest killer in household fires.

“When people are asleep and a smouldering fire starts up, the toxic smoke can cause people to go into an even deeper sleep, until breathing stops altogether.

“By the time a fire breaks out, it’s often too late.

“The goal of this project is to motivate municipalities and communities to install smoke alarms in dwellings that will wake people up in the event of a fire before it’s too late,” added Eksteen.

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Cape Times