The rate at which people are dying and property worth billions of naira is being consumed by fire in this country in recent times has reached alarming proportions. Fire outbreaks across the country are caused by different things, ranging from bush burning to electrical faults to improper storage of fuel to careless handling of domestic fires. In almost all cases however, fire outbreak was aggravated by lack of adequate fire fighting equipment. Fire fighting trucks and equipment are in short supply in most state capitals. This is not to mention local government headquarters and rural areas, where they are virtually non-existent. This is disgraceful for a country of 200 million people.
According to a Daily Trust report two weeks ago, majority of the states have between one to four functional fire trucks. For example, Plateau has four fire trucks, Cross River has one, Edo has two and two water tankers, Kebbi has three old trucks and six grounded ones. Anambra State, which suffered some of the worst fire disasters caused by fuel tankers in recent weeks, had to rely on neighbouring Delta State for support. Rivers, with three serviceable trucks, relies mainly on Shell, Total and Agip oil companies to respond to emergency situations.
Kogi has two trucks to serve 21 local government areas while the number of it’s personnel dropped from 185 to 19 due to retirement and deaths. Taraba state government supplied 16 trucks to its local governments but 14 have been sold out. Kwara has four trucks – two in Ilorin, one at Offa and the other at Omun-Aran. The seven fire engines in Benue are no longer serviceable.
In addition, the fire services across the states lack other basic facilities such as boots, jackets, hoses, fire extinguishers, fire blankets and branches that release water with pressure. As such in most cases the firemen cannot respond quickly to distress calls because they are incapacitated. The number of personnel is also inadequate to cope with the scope of fire outbreaks such as the ones witnessed in Balogun market in Lagos, Onitsha market, the petrol tanker accident in Ibadan, or the Kantin Kwari and Sabon Gari Market fire outbreaks in Kano. All these incidents came with much loss of lives and property. Hundreds of people have died and the losses in property are counted in billions of Naira.
It is not surprising therefore that the “World Life Expectancy Report” in 2016 ranked Nigeria first in the world for deaths by fire. Any time Nigeria is at the top of any global chat, it is usually for the wrong reasons. It is bad enough that people are left poor and vulnerable, but it is worse that their lives and property go up in flames every now and then without any visible efforts to stop it or at least reduce it to the barest minimum. Protection of lives and property is a major responsibility of government, and fire outbreak is one of the biggest threats to both in Nigeria.
Federal and the state governments should therefore rise and live up to their responsibilities. All the various governments can afford to buy fire engines because the cost is not prohibitive. A ladder truck could cost about $350,000 [N92.7m] with both trucks equipped with basics like hoses to hydraulic extrication tools and training. With good planning and commitment, the two upper tiers of governments can buy one each every quarter. If this is done every state and the federal government will be able to build a fleet of fire engines that will place them in a good position of discharging their duties of protecting the lives and property of their citizens.
Assembling adequate firefighting equipment should however be accompanied by stepped-up public awareness on fire prevention as well as stepped-up inspection of offices, factories and residential houses by fire departments to eliminate hazards and give citizens crash training in fire fighting.