Senators, Representatives, staffers and visitors to the Capitol took to their respective heeds Tuesday, 26 May when the Richard R. Tolbert Joint Chambers of the Liberian Legislature gutted with unexpected fire.
The House of Representatives had already adjourned while members of the Liberian Senate were actively debating issues of national concerns when the Chairman on Rules, Order and Administration, Grand Bassa County Representative Jeh Byron Brown, escorted by Sergeant-At-Arm Brigadier General Martin Johnson, stormed the chambers of the Senate unannounced, and broke the news of the fire outbreak.
With the declaration, Senate President Pro-Tempore Armah Jallah immediately announced closure of the regular session of the Senate.
Senators were seen running to their respective offices, while others got on the phones, making calls apparently to various homes, loved ones and relatives on the disturbing incident.
Liberia’s Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, who was on the ground floor of the Capitol, was hurriedly whisked away by officers of the elite Presidential force, the Executive Protection Service or EPS to an unknown destination.
The fire, which erupted in the Joint Chambers, commenced from the ceiling, but was quickly put under control by employees of the Maintenance Department of both Houses.
Although there was no report of nay damages, but the incident transpired at the time when the House of Representatives is awaiting an by the General Auditing Commission.
Speaking to reporters subsequently, Grand Bassa County Representative Byron Brown said the cause of the fire could not be established immediatelt.
Rep. Brown, who chairs the Committee on Rules and Order, described the incident as a complete shock to the entire leadership of the House of Representatives, noting that electrical appliances inside the building were regularly checked.
He said due to the fire, normal activities at the Capitol came to a standstill as employees fled for their lives.
The lawmaker said the leadership of the House has immediately contacted the Liberia National Fire Service for corrective measures to be taken and to establish cause of the fire.
“The fire incident is a shock to us as leaders, especially some of us that head the Rules, Order and Administration Committee of the House because these electrical appliances are regularly checked and if we’re advised that there is problem, we quickly resolve it,” he said.
“We have contacted authority of the National Fire Service to tell what is responsible for the fire accident. The leadership of the House has taken keen interest in the fire and we will seriously follow the root cause of the fire,” he concluded.
This is the second time the Capitol, official home of one of the three branches of the Liberian government to be gutted by fire.
In 2006, during official celebrations of July 26 Independence Day, the Executive Mansion, home of the Presidency gutted terrific fire as dozens of foreign guests, including ex-Ghanaian President John A. Kufour had joined President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for a State Dinner on the fifth floor. By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor