April 1, 2013 2:11 pm
Updated: April 2, 2013 11:45 am

A close call in Liberia

Fire at REAL TV in Liberia.

Shirlee Engel/Global News
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They say timing is everything.

And today so-called “Liberian time” was my saviour.

I was supposed to stop by REAL TV – the station I have been assigned to work at for the next 3 weeks in Liberia. I was going to team up with a couple of journalists who work there. JHR (Journalists for Human Rights) Head of International Programs Kathryn Sheppard and I were dropping in to meet the manager and take a look around before setting off on our first out of town trip with a bunch of reporters.

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As soon as we arrived, we got a sense something was wrong.

Our lungs filled with the thickness of acrid black smoke. We looked up and saw it billowing out of the windows, the cracks, every opening in the upper floor. My first concern was what about the people inside? But there didn’t seem to be a scramble to get anyone out. I later learned everyone did get out.

The scene drew onlookers from nearby shops and buildings. People stood around and watched in awe as a red fire truck rolled through the gate and firefighters began getting the blaze under control.

Reporter mode quickly kicked in. I took out my iPhone and started documenting the chaos. Across the street I noticed a tall, bearded man with a look of concern on his face, so I approached him. His name is Ras K and he is one of the presenters on the air at REAL TV.

He was on live on the air when the fire began.

Ras K said it started in the main studio just after the morning program had wrapped. He speculated it may have been an electrical problem.

No surprise in a city where wooden structures are common and electrical outlets and cords are often not up to par with international safety standards. I was even warned not to buy any power cords at the store. There’s a special place you go for that.

“It’s a setback for us,” he said. “We will not be able to do our reporter duties and stuff like that to get the public informed about what’s happening.”

He added it will take time to have the studio reconstructed and have the equipment brought back. But after we left Kathryn and I were skeptical about where they would find the money to rebuild. Insurance is not exactly ubiquitous here.

And what about those journalists who barely earn enough to live on? Will they still have jobs? Can I still help them?

As we got back in the van, wondering what plan B will be for my placement here, we remembered our driver was 20 minutes late to pick us up.

If he had been on time, we would have been in that building when the fire began, scrambling to get out with the others.

I’m happy to get used to the slower pace of life here.

Fire at REAL TV in Liberia.

Shirlee Engel/Global News

© 2013 Shaw Media

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