Tackling Fire Disasters

Jankara Market, Lagos
Jankara Market, Lagos

Worried over the spate of fire disasters in recent times, Nigerians call on governments to retrain and re-equip fire fighters in the country

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Feb. 4, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

FIRE disaster is taking a toll on Nigeria. In the last three months, there have been several fire incidents in many parts of the country. Many lives have been lost, a great number of people injured and thousands of people displaced, while properties worth several millions of Naira have been destroyed in the incidents. The latest of the fire incidents occurred at the popular Ruth Complex in Ogunpa market in Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, on January 17. Although no casualty was recorded, goods worth millions of Naira were destroyed and the cause of the incident is still unknown.

INEC Headquarters in Abuja
INEC Headquarters in Abuja

Also shrouded in mystery is what caused many of the major fire outbreaks experienced in the country in the past three months. Some experts have blamed the harsh weather condition, but no one wants to disclose who or what kindled the fire. Take for instance, the fire outbreak on the Hill Top resident of Olusegun Obansajo, former president, in Abeokuta, Ogun State. The former president only said the fire began from the office of his personal secretary, but could not tell the nation what caused the fire.

What is incontrovertible is that the outbreak of the Boxing Day fire disaster at the Jankara Market in Lagos, was caused by firecrackers stocked in a warehouse located in the area. One person was killed, 40 others were injured while 12 buildings were razed in the incident. There were also fire disasters caused by explosion of oil tankers in many parts of the country, as well as those caused by vandals while trying to steal petrol from pipelines in different parts of the country.

As at press time, the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, was yet to get the number of persons killed in those fire incidents. But it has been able to provide refugee camps and relief materials to some of the victims mostly those affected by the Ebute Metta fire disaster in Lagos.

Nigerians are equally concerned about the inability of the fire fighters to rise up to the occasion whenever fire incidents are reported. In many cases, fire fighters arrive at the scene very late and this is sometimes blamed on unavailability of operational vehicles, fire tenders, ambulances and lack of communication links between the fire service and the affected people. This has led to some groups calling on both the federal and state governments to equip and retrain the fire fighters and other government agencies saddled with the responsibility of protecting lives and properties of the people in order to improve their operations.

One of such group is the All Nigerian People’s Party, ANPP, which expressed concern over the nation’s neglect of fire fighters and other relevant agencies in the country. The political party urged the federal government to ensure the speedy passage of the National Fire Safety Code into law. It noted: “In a nation of more than 150 million people, only 250 fire service stations are scattered across the country, while London city alone, with a population of about eight million, has about the same number of fire stations. The recent incidents in many parts of the country show that the fire fighters are not living up to expectation simply because they do not have the necessary equipment and training to make them efficient,” the party stated.

Palace of Alaafin of Oyo
Palace of Alaafin of Oyo

Another group under the aegis of Fire Disaster, Prevention and Safety Awareness Association of Nigeria, FDPSAAN, has called on President Goodluck Jonathan to overhaul the country’s fire service, considering the spate of fire outbreaks in the country. The group expressed concern over the recent spate of fire disasters in the country and observed that the rampant fire outbreaks nationwide which led to deaths and massive destruction of valuable properties do not augur well for the socio-economic development of the nation.

President of the group, Badanga Ahmed, said there was need for government to re-strategise and take stock with a view to overhauling the entire fire service system. “Fire service in Nigeria was established in 1901, yet it still operates with an obsolete law, relying on the 1963 Act where a fire fighter is entitled to N10 hazard allowance. There is an urgent need to ensure that the existing document on National Fire Safety Code is allowed to see the light of the day. This would strengthen the enforcement capacity of the fire service, and provide an enabling legislation for them to prosecute offenders who violate the fire code of Nigeria,” Ahmed said.

Oyinlomo Danmole, Lagos State commissioner for home affairs and culture, said the state government was determined to reduce fire incidents to the barest minimum. He emphasised that an American company would soon be in the state with its experts to conduct a training programme for the state fire service and equally build a fire service academy.

“The efforts of our men in the fire service in reducing loss of lives and property are worth commending. We also assure Lagosians that the government is committed to reducing fire incidents. Some of the ways government is doing this is the procurement of additional equipment that can fight fire incidents about 30 metres high. Discussions have also been concluded with an American organisation to conduct training for the state firemen. The state is also set to construct a Fire Service Academy,” Damole said.

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