SIBU: The SK Iban Union hostel fire has raised public concern over the safety of the thousands of rural students staying in hostels in the state.
Most of the wooden hostels in rural schools were built a long time ago - some during the colonial period - and have no emergency exits and other safety measures.
At SK Iban Union, there was only one entrance and exit door for both the boys’ and girls’ hostels. There is one staircase, which leads to the matron's room and girls’ hostel while there is another staircase to the boys' hostel.
As the fire had started from the matron’s room, several pupils ended up being trapped inside the wooden building.
Acknowledging the lack of safety and security measures at hostels, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Douglas Uggah said yesterday that the hostel fire tragedies in SK Iban Union and SRK Abang Moh in Saratok in 1996 were enough to warrant improvements.
The hostel fire in SRK Abang Moh claimed 14 lives.
“This is (SK Iban Union) the second hostel tragedy and it is enough for us to learn a lesson,” he said after visiting the scene of the incident.
Uggah, a brief boarder at SK Iban Union in 1960, hoped the Education Ministry would seriously look into improving the safety of school hostels.
Uggah, who later met several longhouse headmen, teachers, parents and government officials, said a fire relief committee under the charge of the Selanggau sub-district office would be set up.
“The committee will discuss with the government on rebuilding the hostel as soon as possible and to collect donations to help the families of the pupils who died in the fire,” he added.
The school, which has 61 pupils, is sited on top of a hill along Sungai Arip, which is a 45-minute longboat's ride from Arip Bazaar along the Sibu-Bintulu road.