Pensioner perishes in HDC fire

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

– JEFF K MAYERS

TENANTS of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) are yet again being promised fire-emergency services after the death of a pensioner on Wednesday night, in a fire.

On Thursday night, the HDC said the retrofitting of buildings became a priority after the Trou Macaque fire in 2011, that claimed four lives.

Since then, HDC said it embarked on a programme for overall fire suppression systems since it was found to be more feasible than fire escapes because of the age of the buildings.

On Thursday, relatives of Edward Rondon, 67, who died after his apartment caught fire on Wednesday night, believe if there was a fire escape, he might have been alive.

Fire officials said they responded to a fire at apartment 303, Building F, at about 10.30 pm. When they arrived, they were told that one man was still in the apartment and an elderly woman was rescued.

The woman, Joan Gibson- Rondon, 69, is warded at the intensive care unit at the Port of Spain General Hospital. The charred remains of her husband, Edward Rondon, was found after the fire was put out. They were married six months ago.

Rondon’s step-daughter Cynda Gibson-Williams said residents at Charford Courts, Charlotte Street, Port of Spain, have asked for fire escapes.

Edward Rondon – Damien Jones

“This is a warning. We need fire escapes. What if this happens again? If the whole floor was on fire how would the people have escaped? Is one way in and out, it (a fire escape) is needed.”

Wednesday’s fire and the 2011 tragedy were not the only incidents for which the HDC has been chastised.

In 2017, 92-year-old retired police officer Christopher Warner died in a fire at his Old St Joseph Road, Port of Spain, apartment.

Promises were made to retrofit the buildings to install fire escapes and sprinklers were install in other HDC units but this stopped when gang wars erupted.

On Thursday, the HDC said past consultations determined that tenants had justifiable concerns about the senior citizens’ declining agility, potential robberies as well as corrosion from the elements.

It said for buildings more than four floors high will be retrofitted with “dedicated fire, water storage and distribution equipment, sprinklers and smoke detectors.”

It added that the programme will be based on the age of the building. Charford Court, built in the early 1980s, is yet to be outfitted. “The ultimate goal is to ensure risk mitigation strategies to create safe communities,” the HDC said.

Housing Minister Camille Robinson-Regis also offered her condolences to Rondon’s family and offered to assist as best as possible

“Officials from both the health, safety and environment as well as the social and community services departments will visit the development to conduct interviews and damage assessment and will work with the tenants who were affected in the adjacent apartments. We will continue to provide assistance to the affected residents even as we await further information as to the exact cause of the fire,” she said.

Joel Solomon, Gibson-Rondon’s grandson, told the media he did all he could to rescue the couple.

“I was sleeping in my apartment and my cousin call me and tell me the apartment in smoke. Is my grandmother so you know, no doubt about it I went in. With my cousin phone I search and see she lying down in the corridor. I grab she out and I was calling she husband and he answer me. I was telling them he inside but nobody wanted to go for him and the door was open.”

Joan Gibson-Rondon – Damien Jones

Gibson-Williams said her mother and step-father were together for more than 30 years and were married last December. The couple were planning to honeymoon in Tobago. Rondon, she said, had no children.

She was on her way home at Harpe Place when she got the call the apartment was on fire. When she got there, her mother had already been rescued and taken to hospital. She then found out her step-father was trapped.

“When I reach in the hospital, I asked for him because they always together. Then they tell me he was still inside the house. They found him underneath that chair close to the window.”

Gibson-Williams said Rondon was a retired electronic technician. She recalled his humility and how he always stuck by his wife’s side. She said after many proposals, her mother finally said yes to him.