The huge cost of fire outbreaks — Nigerian Tribune Editorial

Posted by News Express | 29 January 2022 | 374 times

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•Interior Minister Aregbesola


THIS week, the Minister of Interior, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, gave disturbing statistics about fire outbreaks in the country in 2021. According to him, no fewer than 136 lives and property worth N3 trillion were lost to fire incidents across the country last year. Speaking during the decoration of newly promoted Deputy Controllers General of the service in Abuja, Aregbesola however noted that the Federal Fire Service was able to save no fewer than 587 lives, and properties worth N18.9 trillion. He added that during the period under review, the service received a total of 2,845 distress calls.

As he noted, the Federal Government undertook a N10.4 billion infrastructure upgrade consisting of 44 firefighting engines, 15 water tankers, 15 rapid intervention fire engines and 20 basic life support ambulances. In addition, he said, 17 firefighting officers were sent to Belarus on an advanced trainer-training course.

There were indeed huge losses last year as fire outbreaks ravaged different states, including Oyo, Lagos, Kano, Sokoto and Ogun states.

As had become fairly typical, major cities and towns across the country witnessed tragic fires with the onset of the dry season, and the disasters stretched firefighters beyond their limits. It is distressing news that the country lost such a staggering number of souls (136) to fire disasters in 2021 alone. The situation becomes much more perplexing when it is realised that in most cases, the outbreaks were clearly avoidable. In general, a range of factors account for fire outbreaks in the country, including the ugly phenomenon of rickety tankers conveying combustible fluids, electrical faults and power surges, the use of substandard electrical parts, indiscriminate bush burning and carelessness in handling items like candles, cigarette stubs and faulty power generating sets. Not much progress can be made on the issue with these factors unaddressed.

Apprised of the situation in the country, governments at all levels ought to have been proactive, particularly in the area of emergency response services. Besides, it is an indubitable fact that across the country, many, if not most fire stations are merely decorative, taking up space for nothing. It is also the case that in responding to outbreaks, many of the fire servicemen conduct themselves very poorly. That being the case, the case for better training and retraining has been strongly made.

In this regard, we find the Federal Government’s deployment of master trainers in training other officers on modern firefighting, disaster and emergency management worthy of applause. We also commend the men of the fire service for the modest successes recorded in taming outbreaks last year. We do not make light of the fact that 587 lives and property estimated at N18.9 trillion were saved through their timely intervention. However, given the statistics on human and property losses, we state without equivocation that the government still has a lot to do in order to arrive at an ideal situation.

As we noted in previous editorials, there is a need for continuous public awareness campaigns on avoidable tragedies. In the past, state governments made this issue a core duty and filled the airwaves with jingles appealing for great care in the use of combustible items, dramatising the tragic consequences of outbreaks. They must bring back such campaigns, and with greater vigour. In any case, we have not been persuaded to change our view that the country could do with more efficient and transparent monitoring and supervision by government agencies in charge of the environment, town planning and other issues. Among other things, this has the potentiality to curb the indiscriminate location of filling stations and the attendant catastrophe witnessed during fire outbreaks.

Apparently, the need to interrogate the funding of fire service agencies remains critical. Underfunding and under-equipping the firefighting agencies will always lead to catastrophic results. A situation where the agencies constantly lack water and other items needed to curb fires, and where their trucks are always faulty, should not be tolerated any longer. In this day and age, there must be helicopters and modern equipment to tackle outbreaks. In line with the global best practices, inter-agency operations are also called for.

For instance, while the police are helping in getting fire trucks to scenes of disaster in time, the Air Force could complement the effort by using its expertise to douse such fires. And, for all practical purposes, there is nothing stopping the fire services from having and deploying an air component. That would ensure smooth response to fires, particularly those with devastating potential. On their part, the citizenry need to be vigilant. They should shy away from practices that engender fire disasters, including poor handling of electrical appliances, fuel and gas.

Source: News Express

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