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Fesco stronger one year after deadly fire

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — February 21, 2020 is a day Lyden “Trevor” Heaven will never forget.

On that day, fire resulted in the death of 59-year-old Daniel Farquharson, the injury of several people and $100 million in damage at Heaven’s Fesco petrol station in this central Jamaica town.

As he reflected on the incident a year later, Heaven, who has over 30 years experience in the petroleum industry, told the Jamaica Observer that he is still shaken up.

The “unfortunate event”, as he puts it, was not foreseen.

“Of all the time I have been alive. Of all the years I have been in business, 2020 was the most challenging… The day of the event itself, the unfortunate event, we had a wonderful outside broadcast here with Radio Jamaica. It was an upbeat event… We had a wonderful day, and then all of a sudden in the twinkling of an eye things just changed and we had major devastation,” he told the Sunday Observer.

He continues to sympathise with all those affected, including the family of Farquharson, who was a mechanic and businessman.

“… He had all intentions of going back home to his family, but he never made it. There are a number of persons out there who were affected, never expected to go to the hospital, never expected to lose their possessions. They fully expected to go back home to their families,” Heaven said.

He said contact has been maintained with all the victims of the fire.

“My wife, Claudine, has been a significant support throughout the period. She reached out to every single person that was affected… We have been in touch with all of the persons that have been affected and, in particular, Mr Farquharson has a daughter, she shares the same class as my own daughter,” he said.

“I had indicated that I am fully prepared to see to the full education of that young lady, because [her father] had great plans for her and I would love to see those plans materialise as much as possible,” added Heaven.

Efforts made to get comments from some victims were unsuccessful.

The fire at the petrol station, located at the intersection of Caledonia Road, Manchester Road and Perth Road, had sparked widespread debate about how such stations are being operated.

Heaven maintains that lessons learnt from the ordeal have provided a platform for improved training of employees in the petroleum industry as well as improved safety measures for the sector.

“… The circumstances surrounding the incident have become the training point for most facilities of this kind. It provides a real case situation for training of persons in the gasolene retail trade,” he said.

When asked what could have been done differently to prevent the incident, Heaven said requisite standards were kept.

“We are very careful here. We have regular visits of the Ministry of Labour, from the factories corporation department, to do inspections and to ensure that we meet the requisite guidelines and standards of a good factory per say,” he said.

“We have regular visits from the fire department, the police have been here regularly…We have an arrangement with certain guidelines from the National Environment and Planning Agency,” he added.

“We are very compliant with all of the things. Our fire alarm system, our standards are up to speed and working, but when we think about it, it is difficult to say in hindsight, because incidents and accidents of this nature are exactly what they are, not preconceived, not predetermined, not planned for. It is something that appears on you, out of maybe negligence, maybe carelessness, maybe something you don’t even know,” he stressed.

He pointed to the low regard some members of the public have for the dangers which can flow from careless behaviour at a petrol station; and the need for people to always adhere to safety measures.

“… We full well know that our general population, our people do not take the dangers of a facility like this in mind. It is downright careless,” he said.

“After the incident and we reopened, there was a boisterous case where one of my customers was on the pump taking fuel and a man walked past him with a cigarette in his hand, smoking, even after all what had taken place, so [the customer] confronted the man with the cigarette.

“It teaches us a lesson of what scant regard we have for our safety and what scant regard we have for the others around us,” he added.

He stressed that there has to be a change in how people adhere to safety protocols.

“The awareness level for people who use facilities like these is extremely low. We need to bring the level of awareness [up],” he said.

“The video footage that was shown after the incident clearly demonstrated that our own persons here and customers around us didn’t take it seriously,” he added.

The Mandeville location, which was the first branded venue for Future Energy Source Company (Fesco), was out of operation for a month following the fire.

“When we had the devastating fire on February 21, we were back up and running full speed ahead on March 22. The only reason we didn’t do it before is because, out of respect for Mr Farquharson and his family, the 21st would have been a month [since] he passed,” said Heaven.

He attributes the reopening of the petrol station to an all hands on deck approach.

“We were able to do that, because of the brand itself, we have excellent support from the company, Fesco, our staff and our customers…When we got back the facility from the [authorities], the very evening every member of staff was here and some of our very good customers. Simple taxi men, they are number one in my book, who come and buy their $500 gas,” said Heaven.

“We didn’t lay off anybody. We kept our entire staff for the month we were down and even when we [reopened],” he added.

The former Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (JGRA) president said the Fesco brand plans to expand with two new locations being built in the Corporate Area.

He has since started to relinquish the Mandeville location to three of his six children; Kai Melissa; Timberlee and Nathan.

“My objective is to transition the entire facility and its management to my children, so I can spend more time with the group to drive those initiatives especially going into an initial public offering (IPO). A brand-new change to our image and all the ambitious projects that we have to execute. I want to spend more time on building the brand itself,” he said.

“I have been here at this location for over 30 years. You would have seen a significant change in this landscape in this square that we call Mandeville… The location has contributed significantly to the look and feel of the town itself,” he said.

He described the location as a landmark in Manchester.

“It is a landmark location and it is very well known in the town and in the parish, and, if I may say so, in Jamaica as well. We have done well over the period. We have had significant growth. We have expanded and created a one stop location for most of our customers, in terms of facilities and services. The location is fully developed, and we look forward to greater things ahead,” Heaven stated.

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