Officer in Charge of Operation at the Guyana Fire Service, Compton Sparman taking the stand on MondayDeadly prison riotBy Shemuel FanfairThe night before the deadly prison blaze which claimed the lives of 17 inmates, firemen were the recipients of insults and “missiles” while they attempted to battle fires set by inmates. These were the words of Officer in Charge of Operations at the Guyana Fire Service, Compton Sparman who described the March 3 events as “traumatic”.In relating his account of events to the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the Camp Street Prison riot, Sparman explained that his team was observing all Standard Operating Procedures to contain the blazes even as bricks were hurled at many of his firemen. He also posited that for the first time he felt scared in his near 34 years of experience.“They were throwing bricks at us and threatening us … being a resident of Albouystown they were saying I know you…and when I get out, I will deal with you,” he stressed.“[We] felt threatened, but were given assurances by the prison authorities that they would ensure that security be maintained,” he further noted.“If the cells were breached, we would have been the targets simply because we were the ones extinguishing the fires,” Sparman told the CoI when questioned about threats to personal security.The Fire Officer also rejected previous claims that the water supply went out for a short time. Sparman revealed that at one point prisoners were using mattresses to prevent water from entering the facility. When questioned further over the Fire Service’s operations on the night, the Fire Officer emphasised that firemen could not barge in to rescue inmates as the Prison Service gave orders on the movement of prisoners.Sparman related to the Commission that Deputy Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels stated that the prisoners “didn’t want to come out” as they started the deadly blaze the next morning. When questioned further by the Attorney representing the Joint Services, Eusi Anderson, the Fire Officer admitted that he didn’t actually see the prisoners who were “screaming”, but he had repeatedly heard “a banging on the door”.In somewhat of a contrast to some of the accounts supplied by inmates who testified, the Fire Officer suggested that it would have been difficult for prison officers to free the inmates, since the metal bars of the prison cells would’ve expanded with the heat from the fire, thereby inhibiting entry.Commissioners also heard that many of the responding officers who witnessed the dead bodies have been undergoing counselling to overcome the problems associated with their consequent disturbed sleeping patterns. At this point, Sparman recalled what he saw in a much lowered tone.He explained that the scenes of the riot were filled with “confusion and chaos” and noted the discoloured skin of many of the dead inmates.The Fire Officer surmised the cause of the fires and its associated causalities.“The fires were no doubt maliciously set, all three days because of the grievances [of the inmates],” he noted.As the CoI continues, Joint Service officers will testify throughout the week.