How prepared is the fire service against the growing threats posed by frequent fuel tanker accidents?
The Service is well prepared. Like the Controller General of Fire CGF, Liman Ibrahim Alhaji said during his maiden briefing some weeks ago, before the advent of this administration, most of the few trucks we had were largely unserviceable and we most times had to employ the services of prayer warriors to help us pray for the trucks not to break down when going for operations. However, President Muhammadu Buhari has graciously approved the purchase of 93 fire fighting trucks for the Service. This is in addition to the various trucks and other vehicles that we had taken delivery of in the past four years and which have been commissioned and deployed for operations.
Before the appointment of the current CGF, the Federal Fire Service had its presence in only Abuja and Lagos and the Six Geo-political zones; we have Zone A comprising of Benue, Nasarawa & Plateau with headquarters in Makurdi, Zone B comprising of Katsina, Jigawa & Kaduna with Headquarters in Kano; Zone C comprising Bauchi, Yobe & Borno with Headquarters in Bauchi; Zone D comprising Enugu, Ebonyi, & Anambra with Headquarters in Enugu; Zone E comprising Akwa-Ibom, Rivers & Cross River with Headquarters in Uyo and; Zone F comprising Lagos, Ogun, & Oyo with Headquarters in Lagos.
However, as we speak, the Service has expanded its operational activities by establishing six additional Zonal Headquarters thus; Zone G -Niger, Kogi & Kwara, with headquarters in Minna; H -Sokoto, Zamfara & Kebbi with headquarters in Sokoto; I-Adamawa, Taraba & Gombe, with headquarters in Yola; J -Owerri & Abia, with headquarters in Owerri; K-Delta, Edo & Bayelsa, with headquarters in Asaba; L-Osun, Ondo & Ekiti with headquarters in Osogbo.
These Zonal Headquarters are to be equipped with a minimum of two states of the art firefighting trucks and manned by well trained and experienced firemen.
The essence of our spread is to deliver fire services to Nigerians and to improve on our response time to emergencies as well as to compliment efforts of the State Fire Services.
Within this few months of the appointment of the CGF, we have received and commissioned 12 modern fire trucks which have been deployed in the newly created zones.
We have renovated the Nyanya Fire Station here in Abuja which covers the suburbs of Nasarawa State.
We have received approval for the establishment of an additional five fire service training schools which will soon take off. They are located in Maiduguri, Calabar, Ilorin, Katsina, and Umuahia. These Training Schools will provide training for not just the Federal Fire Service personnel but the State Fire Services and other Fire Services within and outside the country.
Strengthening of the State Fire Services has been the CGF’s major concern, because when he assumed office, one of his major goals was to see how the State Fire Services can be strengthened for effectiveness and efficiency and to achieve that, he has been reaching out to State Governors, supporting and encouraging them to do the needful about their Fire Services. The belief is that a strengthened State Fire Service complemented by our presence in the Zones will go a long way in addressing the gaps in fire service delivery across the country
With the procurement of new state of the art firefighting trucks distributed to the 12 zones of the Service across the nation, the Service is always ready to respond to fire outbreaks and other emergencies across the nation and worthy to note that similar situations in recent past in Sokoto, Uyo, Minna, Ibadan, Osun and Lagos were prevented from escalating to a major disaster by the Fire Service.
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Do you have any role to play in ensuring that fuel tanker drivers and owners adhere to safety standards?
We have in the recent past responded to emergencies involving petrol tankers rolling over and spilling petroleum products on the road. In the last one month, the Service successfully managed incidents of tanker spills in Sokoto, Minna, Osogbo, Ibadan, Lagos and Uyo. The case of Onitsha was rather unfortunate as the spill emptied into open drainage and rapidly spread to lower plains. Although the State Fire Service responded timely, it was not possible to contain the situation. All efforts by the Federal Fire and Delta State Fire Services to respond failed to yield any positive result because of the traffic situation at the Niger bridge. This situation was further compounded by the hostile attitude of the crowd.
The Service will collaborate with the relevant regulatory authorities to ensure tighter control. Ministry of Transport and Federal Road Safety Corps have a key role to play in ensuring that only roadworthy trucks are allowed to transport petroleum products. It is also necessary to ensure that the trucks do not get excessively loaded. Only tested and experienced drivers should be allowed to drive these categories of trucks.
The input of the Fire Service is essential in the design and construction of buildings and structures. The distortion in our cities and towns and the state of our roads is quite alarming. It will be very difficult to deploy heavy firefighting assets or put in place an effective evacuation plan in most Nigeria cities and towns in the event of an emergency.
More of a fire awareness campaign and education targeting operators in the bulk petroleum product transport sector is necessary to check the menace of incessant rolling over of truck tankers on our roads.
What is the mandatory firefighting equipment a fuel tanker should have?
It is mandatory for all categories of vehicles to have fire extinguishers in the event of a fire outbreak. This equipment varies in size depending on the type and size of vehicles. It should be noted that extinguishers are effective at the incipient stages of fire development. The most effective way of averting petrol tanker accidents which recently has been on the rise is to ensure strict regulatory control as an enforcer, educate operators in the bulk petroleum product transport sector as a safety officer and the need for absolute caution as a driver.
The usual argument against the fire service is that you arrive at the scene of fuel tanker accidents late and lack adequate firefighting tools. What is your take?
This is a wrong impression, which should be erased from the minds of Nigerians. A standard fire truck is equipped with 6,500 litres capacity water tanker and high-pressure pump with a water discharge rate of over 1000 litre/min. A simple calculation shows that the tank empties after about 6 to 7 minutes and this means at fire scenes, without a source of water nearby, the truck returns to base to refill. The impression then is that the Fire Service arrived at the scene without water. Most of our cities and towns are without fire hydrants. Besides, other factors which come to play include; when the distress call was initiated. Was it a running call or a phone call with little or no information given? How was the traffic situation on the road to the scene of the incident?
These are issues that are at play in this regard. In the aspect of fire fighting tools, we we need more men, more training more infrastructure, across the country but it is not easy for this to be achieved within a short time, it takes time, it is a gradual process but between 2015 to date, we have registered significant improvement in terms of our mobile firefighting asset base and we are also spreading, we are establishing training schools but more needs to be done, especially in the states.
It still remains a fact that more funding is needed but the present Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has given the Federal Fire Service a total facelift. We have been able to procure 92 fire fighting trucks and taken delivery of 62 with a balance of 30 to be delivered in the 1st quarter of 2020.12 Zonal commands have been created across the country and the assets equitably distributed with well-trained personnel to man them. We have done all these to complement the efforts of the States and also reduce our response time.
Do you have any programme that sensitises fuel tanker drivers, owners and NUPENG on safety measures?
With the well-planned collaboration with the FRSC, we should be able to educate the tanker drivers on proper safety habits in their operations.
Do you have the number of fuel tanker fire incidents from January till date?
Statistics are taken of events of fuel tanker fires attended and reported accordingly.
What are the things that can strengthen the capacity of the Service to respond to an emergency like fuel tanker fire accident?
There will always be challenges, there has been a significant increase in the funding to the fire service at the national level but there is also need for funding at the sub-national level to be increased as well. More assets, more personnel and more training. Collaborative efforts to check the menace of uncontrolled fire can not be over-emphasized too.