A season of rampaging infernos
In the recent history, fire outbreaks in the country have assumed epidemic proportions as rampaging infernos are reported barely every other day in different parts of the country.
These incidents, tragic in some cases, have not spared public and private structures in the country, as both have been incessantly razed down, leading to the loss of property worth billions naira.
For instance, between May and October 2016, Delta State recorded 23 fire outbreaks. Even though no life was lost in any of those incidents, the Commissioner for the Bureau for Special Duties, Mr. Chika Ossai, regretted that property worth millions of naira were destroyed in the process.
Up north in Sokoto State, no fewer than 12 persons died as a result of 385 fire incidents that broke out between January and December 2016.
Director-General of the State Fire Service Department, Alhaji Ibrahim Dingyadi, who made the revelation added that property worth over N 2.1 billion were also lost in the infernos, while the total value of property saved stood at N2.8b.
Sadly, the latest victims in the state were a couple and their one-year-old son, whose end suddenly came on December 30, 2016 while Nigerians were preparing to usher in 2017, via an inferno, which razed down their residence in Gandu area of Sokoto-North local council of Sokoto State.
On Wednesday December 28, three children of the same parent died 24 hours after they suffered severe burns from the fire that gutted their single-room apartment at No.15 Ikuna Street, Liasu Road, in the Ikotun Egbe area of Lagos State. The children died in a hospital where they were taken for treatment.
On Saturday, December 31, 2016, tragedy struck in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, when a fire outbreak, which was the fallout of an explosion, claimed the lives of a couple and their four children while they were asleep.The incident, which occurred around 1.45am, also affected a large part of the building, which is situated at No. 17, New Estate Road, Railway Quarters, where the taxi driver resided with his petty trader wife and their four kids.
It is not only residential homes that have been buffeted by fire of late. Public structures including schools and markets have also had a raw deal.For instance, on November 23, 2016, two floors of Bakassi Hostel, at the Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) were gutted by fire while several students sustained varying shades of injuries during the incident.
Barely one month after this incident, an early morning fire outbreak on Sunday December 18, 2016, consumed fairly used tyres and car spare parts when parts of Araromi Market at Agodi Gate, Ibadan, were razed to the ground. The destroyed items, according to Chairman of the market, Mr. Abdul Azeez Ojo, were said to be valued at over N10m.In Ogun State, an inferno, which broke out on Christmas day, gutted many shops and destroyed goods worth millions of naira, forcing the state government commence the process of restructuring the market to prevent incidents of fire outbreak, which has become a yearly occurrence.
A day after the Ogun incident, property worth over N40m were lost, as a fire incident in Gombe town’s main market razed to the ground about 48 shops.The fire was suspected to have been ignited by an electrical fault in a shop after electricity supply was restored to the market.
Time To Enforce Building Codes, Regulations
On a number of occasions, rescue efforts by fire service departments during fire outbreaks are hampered by the inability to gain access to fire scenes by fire trucks due largely to the unplanned nature of most markets and even residential property. Within a space of three months mid last year, fire gutted 10 major markets in the country, including the Sabon Gari Market in Kano, where some 3, 800 shops and goods estimated at N2 trillion went up in flames. The Kano incident is regarded as the worst market fire disaster in Nigeria.
According to Dr. Wilson Arikpo, a safety ambassador and the National Public Relations Officer, Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON), “Most, if not almost all homes do not have a fire plan. Unfortunately, even government buildings do not have good or comprehensive fire plans either, if there is one at all. We can only truly prepare our families and ourselves adequately when we know the true nature of fire.
He stressed that it is very important for Nigerians to equip themselves with the knowledge of safety saying: “The number one priority in the event of a fire outbreak at home is safety because things can be replaced, but lives are lost forever. Many people know about fire, but not everybody understands fire.”
“To avoid fatality, the holistic plan should start from the building code, as there is always a conflict between safety and security in that burglary proofs are fitted for security reason, but not acceptable for safety reasons. We have recorded cases in Nigeria and overseas where people were trapped and burnt to death because of neighbours are unable to break burglarproofs and steel doors easily.
“Smoke detectors and fire alarms should be installed to give early warning to residents/occupants of a facility, just as emergency toll-free numbers should be memorised by all family numbers and conspicuously displayed. Good housekeeping that ensures things are neatly kept in their appropriate places and exit doors are not blocked for any reason, should be encouraged.
“Furthermore, families should develop a fire safety and escape plan and all members should be involved in fire safety drills. Electrical connections should be neatly ended to avoid leakages and resultant electrocution. Portable generators should never be used indoors and should only be refueled outdoors or in well-ventilated areas when turned off.”
He continued, “It is therefore imperative that every household should have a home safety plan that focuses on both preventing fires and responding to a fire should one occur. Fire extinguishers are an important part of this plan. Place at least one multipurpose (type A, B, C) fire extinguisher in your home, and one should be located in, or near the kitchen.When there is fire, it is not the time to be moving things before you get to where the fire extinguisher is. Fire extinguishers should be readily accessible and regularly checked for proper pressure.”
Advocacy On Safety Awareness Among Nigerians
IN view of the debilitating effect of fires in the country vis-a-vis the attendant loss of goods and lives, experts and stakeholders are of the view that the introduction of, and stepping up of advocacy on the issue would not be a bad idea.
Also to mitigate the increasing regularity of fire outbreaks and the attendant dangers to lives and property, it is important to step up advocacy on the issue, conduct regular fire drills in markets and other public buildings, enforce existing fire codes, and raise the profile and the resources available to fire services.
Arogundade Olasupo, a safety enthusiast is of the view that to reduce to the barest minimum, the rising spate of fire incidents in the country, safety training at the office and at homes remains very important. He said beyond the safety training, people should be conscious of the dangers involved when handling inflammable materials at work or at home.
Olasupo also wants those that have fire extinguishers at home and in their vehicles to always watch out for the expiry dates in order not to be caught napping when the need arises. A fire officer at the Isolo Fire Station, Lagos State, who prefers anonymity, said major causes of fire outbreaks in the state include carelessness in handling cooking equipment and faulty electrical installations.
“When heat is generated to a certain unsafe level it can result to a fire outbreak. Same applies to carelessness in the form of storage of kerosene, petrol, gas inside a residential structure.
So: “As a service, we try to enlighten and sensitise the people on how to prevent fire outbreaks. Every Tuesday, we have a show on Naija FM, where we speak to people on fire prevention measures all in a bid to raise/create safety awareness.
“Lagosians must, however, imbibe the idea of calling the fire service first, once there is a fire outbreak because we have notice a trend where we are the last to be called after efforts to put out a fire fails. Again, most people don’t even have the phone number of the fire station in their locality hence they keep on calling the headquarters, which in turn will call the nearest fire station. So, it is very important to call the fire station in your area so that they would arrive early enough to help. Unfortunately, most people are always saying it is not my portion for a fire outbreak to be recorded in my house.”
There is a Lagos State law, which makes it mandatory for there to be fire extinguishers in homes and offices. The law is currently being amended.“We have an edict since 1988 that empowers firemen to inspect homes and offices for their level of preparedness in case of fire outbreaks, but since there is no enforcement, there is not much we can do as people will always tell you, ‘it is my property and I am not interested,’ so we had to stop, till the law can be enforced,” the fire officer concluded.
ISPON’s PRO, Arikpo, is also strongly of the view that the importance of “placing at least one standard fire extinguisher in every household cannot be overemphasized as portable extinguisher come in very handy and timely in attacking fire at the very incipient stage, which, by the way, is the best time to fight any fire, before it snowballs into a conflagration. This is largely due to the fact that fire spreads quickly and there might be no time to gather valuables or even make a phone call.
“The good news is that home fires can be prevented, especially if we simply understand the basic characteristics of fire. In just two minutes or less, a fire can become life-threatening. In about five minutes, a home can be completely engulfed in flames.
“Having said that, let me add that people need to know that fire hardly kills anyone on its own. Heat and smoke from fire are more dangerous than the flames itself. Fire produces poisonous hot air gases that can sear the lungs, make one disoriented and drowsy when such fumes are inhaled, causing asphyxiation, which is the leading cause of fire deaths,” the safety professional stressed.
Race Against Time
Fire service stations round the country cut a very pathetic sight. Most times, all that is left of the stations are run down fire trucks and empty buildings with scant fire-fighting equipment.
It came to light recently that the last time equipment were procured for the Federal Fire Service (FFS), was sometime in 1996.It was a result of this that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at its first meeting this year, approved the sum of N4.6 billion for the purchase of new fire-fighting equipment to contain fire incidents in the country.
The Minister of Interior, Lt-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau, who made the disclosure at a joint State House Media briefing with the Aviation Minister, Alhaji Hadi Sirika, said there was an appropriation of about N5.2b for the purchase in the 2016 budget, but the figure dropped after a no objection approval by the Bureau of Public Enterprises.
Last week, the House of Representatives called for the extension of FFS presence in all local councils in the country in order to forestall incessant fire outbreaks.
The resolution emanated from a motion on “Urgent Need to Make the Services of the Federal Fire Service Available in the 774 Local Government Areas of the Federation,” sponsored by Mr. Joseph Edionwele (PDP, Edo State).
Making the lead debate, Edionwele who noted that the Federal Fire Service Act, Cap F29, LFN 2004 created a fire service for the nation, lamented that its structure and operational modalities had rendered it incapable of making its impact felt throughout the country, except for areas within the immediate vicinity of state capitals and Abuja.
Others who contributed to the debate maintained that if these fire stations are established in all local councils, it substantially reduces casualties during fire outbreaks. The lawmakers, therefore urged the executive to provide adequate funds to enable the service establish its presence in all local councils across the country.
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