The police fire brigade arrived at St Bernard’s SS Manya in Kifamba sub-county, Rakai district at least two hours later after a fire outbreak that has so far claimed lives of 10 students.
The Sunday night fire gutted the senior three boys' dormitory, leaving 10 dead and more than 30 other students with severe burn injuries. URN has learnt that the fire brigade truck which was parked at the Great Masaka policing regional office set off at around 12:15 am - an hour after the fire broke out at the school. The fire truck took one more hour to move the 69km distance from Masaka police station to Mannya, in Rakai district.
According to a report to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) and the Fire and Rescue Services Directorate, the first call to the police was made to the officer-in-charge Rakai police station, Aggrey Okumu by a Rakai-based journalist at around 11:07pm.
But the regional police commander, Latif Zaake said he received information about the fire a few minutes after midnight. URN has further learnt that while the police emergency communication procedures involve making a call to the operation communication office before personal calls are made, no call was made to the office located in Kampala.
The operation communication office is in charge of coordinating information between police commanders and all other available resources. By the time the fire brigade truck arrived at the scene, senior six students had managed to break the locks on the dormitory door and a rescue mission was underway that involved teachers, students and members of the community neighbouring the school.
Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima confirmed the late arrival of the fire truck.
"Our fire trucks at the region in Masaka are 100km from the area [of the fire], so the firetrucks didn’t come on time because of the distance. But the area police quickly came, and the local community responded swiftly and did a pretty good job together with the teachers. Our specialised team of officers including the forensic and homicide experts as well as our intelligence services are on ground to fully investigate and bring to book those who committed this crime of arson and murder," said Kayima.
The delay was compounded by the fact that while people gathered to help; more than 60 students had been locked inside the dormitory and could hardly come out. There was no fire extinguisher for them to put off the fire, and there was no other exit. Kayima reiterates that the burglar proofing of windows is a big threat to the safety of students.
"When you put burglar proofs, they are really for safety issues not security - safety, to stop a burglar from accessing. How about when a problem comes and you have to run away? So when you increase safety, you compromise on security." added Kayima.
Preliminary police findings indicate that less than a week ago, there was a foiled fire attack on another boys' dormitory by one of the 11 expelled senior four students. It is on the basis of this foiled attempt to burn the dormitory which was allegedly covered up by the school, that teachers and students have since pointed at the expelled students as the prime suspects to the arson.
So far, three of the expelled students have been arrested as police searches for the remaining eight. Two teachers and the security guard have been also picked for questioning.