…as fears of harmattan inferno spread
…Abia station has no borehole, relies on brewery for water
…Imo dept complains of lack of personnel
…Enugu fire chief pleads for right of way
…Anambra: Broken down phones, fire engines; no water; absentee firemen
By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Dennis Agbo, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinonso Alozie and Chinedu Adonu
THE state of fire-fighting facilities in the South-East is to say the least worrisome. This is more so as harmattan is fast approaching with the potential to fuel fire outbreaks.
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The recent tanker fire outbreak in Onitsha, and the inability of Anambra State Fire Service to act quickly, points to the dearth of functional fire-fighting facilities in most of the states in the region.
Abia State is notorious for the lack of functional fire-fighting facilities.
For instance, the fire service stations in Umuahia, the state capital, and Aba, the commercial capital, are empty as none has functional trucks.
The fire incident that happened at a four-storey building at 21 Asa Road, Aba and another storey building along Omoba Road, Ogbor Hill, Aba clearly exposed the emptiness of the fire service.
A visit to Aba and Umuahia offices of the fire service revealed unserviceable trucks.
Consequently, a rights group, Coalition of South-East Youths, COSEYL, called on Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to urgently equip the fire service to save lives and property.
COSEYL President General, Chief Good Ibem, said fire incidents, which destroyed properties estimated at over N100 million, could have been averted if the fire service was equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and vehicles to tackle fire outbreaks.
“The state government should provide more modern and big fire-fighting vehicles, as well as borehole in the premises of the fire service departments in the state”, Ibem said.
“Government should procure modern fire-fighting equipment for the state fire service at Aba and Umuahia. Government should properly equip the fire service for quality service delivery, especially now that the EMBER months are here. The time to do it is now”.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the fire service station in Aba has only one functional fire truck while their only source of water was Nigerian Breweries PLC, along Industry Road, Aba.
A fire service officer in Umuahia, who pleaded anonymity, said: “We lack modern equipment to fight fire. There are several challenges confronting us.
For instance, the State Fire Service at Aba is in charge of the nine local government areas of the old Aba Zone which has seven big markets like Ariaria International Market, Ahia Ohuru Market at Ngwa Road, Eziukwu Market, Ekeoha Shopping Center, Alaoji Flyover Market, Uratta Integrated Timber Market, Phone and electrical Market and other roads housing traders dealing in specialized goods.
“The city deserves functional modern vehicles to fight fire outbreaks.
Is it not laughable that a commercial city as big as Aba is served with only one 1, 000 gallon-fire truck?
“It is shocking to also discover that there is no crane for the fire service department in the state.
“If we can have two fire trucks with 24,000 gallons capacity, we will do a better job combating fire outbreaks than with the 1, 000 gallon-fire truck.
“With the 24,000-gallon trucks, you can be confident of achieving results than going back to refill 1,000 gallons while fire rages”.
When contacted, the head of the Abia State Fire Service, Mr. Victor Gbaruko, declined to comment on the issues.
He said he doesn’t like granting interviews on telephone.
The story of Enugu State is a little different in that the department has some functional facilities.
The state fire service said it was prepared to combat any fire outbreak given the state of equipments at its disposal and the training its staff members receive on regular basis.
The state fire service has 10 fire stations located in the cities and rural communities of the 17 local government areas.
The service, however, said that it may be helpless if major fire outbreak occurs at the state major market, Ogbete Main Market Enugu, because traders have taken over the space provided for the stationing of fire trucks and overhead water tank.
It also lamented that there is also no thoroughfare for trucks should emergency occur inside the market.
The Enugu Fire Service, however, said that as dry season approaches, it would station facilities close to the market.
The state Chief Fire Officer, Okwudiri Ohaa, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard said they had asked the leadership of the market to demolish illegal shops built on fire service grounds inside Ogbete Market and that traders should also give way on the designated right of way for fire trucks in case of emergency.
When contacted on the issue, the Chairman of Enugu North Local Government Area, Hon. Emma Onoh, blamed traders who he accused of being obstinate despite all efforts made to clear them from the right of way and from fire service grounds in the market.
The Chief Fire Officer also pleaded with motorists to always give his men the right of way whenever they were rushing to attend to any emergency.
He urged the public to call toll free numbers, 112 and 117, to contact the office for emergencies.
On the issue of water supply, Ohaa disclosed that Enugu State government directed the state Water Corporation to ensure that water is always reserved for them on daily basis.
“We are well prepared, not just because we are approaching harmattan or dry season, we have also designed programmes we do throughout the year and we redouble our efforts during harmattan”, the Chief Fire Officer said.
“We started with the opening of five new stations, the recruitment of 52 additional staff; the state government acquired five mini fire trucks for the new stations. “In fact we have all the items we requested for to carry us throughout the dry season.
“For the first time in the history of the state, approval was given for the purchase of 45 Personal Protecting Equipments, PPE, and eight Escape BA (Beating Apparatus) and some foam making compounds we use in fighting various types of fire; training and retraining of our staff, with some going abroad.
“Recently, we embarked on inspection of over 30 markets, liquefied gas plants; we have been making radio announcements that as from this November, we are going to embark on thorough inspection of cooking gas shops.
“That business is springing up everywhere and it is very dangerous.
We are going to make sure that everybody that is refilling cooking gas is licensed and operates in a conducive environment.
“We are going to conduct fire trainings in all the major markets in Enugu. There will also be training for stakeholders including neighbourhood watchers from all the 17 local government areas.
“Before the year runs out, we will still carry out our normal sensitization through road shows, the media and other methods, because creating awareness on what they have to do to prevent fire outbreaks is as important as fighting fire. Our efforts are geared towards prevention”.
The Director of Imo State Fire Service, Mr. Japhat Okereafor, said his department does not have enough man-power for fire facilities.
According to Okereofor, apart from man-power issue, they also lack chemicals to fight fire as well as communication gadgets to improve on their networking in the event of fire outbreak.
He lamented that in the eight years of the Okorocha administration, the state fire service department was abandoned and that in most cases they were handicapped whenever there was fire incident.
Okereofor, however, expressed joy that the coming of Governor Emeka Ihedioha has injected new life into the department with the procurement six fire trucks. “I am so happy that Sunday Vanguard is coming to my office to know what is happening in Imo State Fire Department”, he said.
“Under the past administration of Rochas Okorocha, the state fire service was forgotten as no attention was given to us.
“But I am very happy that under the incumbent administration, something is happening. During Okorocha’s administration, I had only one fire tanker and that water tanker was not well serviced.
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“But Governor Emeka Ihedioha first 100 days was good for the fire service. He saw my letter and he came into the fire service to see the challenges we are facing. He saw the necessity for a functional fire service in the state, and instantly directed me to fix the six fire engines that had been abandoned for years.
“We brought people from Lagos who repaired the fire engines, you know that these are digital engines and we need companies that have the expertise to deal with them.
“Though the fire engines are good now, we don’t have enough manpower and I have requested for a waiver to employ 125 workers which I know the governor will approve.
“Before now, we were not attending to fire incidents, but I am happy that we can move our engines anywhere you call us in Imo State.
“I have one standby fire engine at Orlu Zone and another at Okigwe. I have four covering Owerri.
“If that of Orlu or Okigwe has problems and there is fire outbreak, we will send another vehicle to that place for reinforcement. “I cherish my work very well and I know that harmattan is fast approaching and we are preparing day-by-day for it.
“The governor has a listening ear and I know that he will do something about our challenges of chemicals and communication gadgets”.
THE fire incident that took place in the commercial city of Onitsha was an eye opener and it went a long way to expose the inadequacies in the state fire service. The state fire service has its headquarters in Awka, with other branches at Amawbia, Government House premises, Onitsha Main Market, Nnewi, Ogidi, Nkpor and Ekwulobia. Though the Awka headquarters is such a magnificent edifice and well designed to operate effectively, it lacks the basic amenities required to function properly. Even the telephone numbers listed for prompt contact of firemen are not functioning, going by the experiences of some people who had the need to call the fire service.
In one of the fire stations, a truck parked there had flat tyres and there is no water in most of the stations, making people to wonder the kind of service the fire department would offer in an emergency situation.
A visit to some of the fire stations showed that most of the staff members are usually not at their duty post because of the erroneous assumption that fire occurs sparingly in the state.
However, following the recent fire incidents in parts of Anambra, Governor Willie Obiano initiated a move to grant the state fire service more autonomy. It was gathered that subject to approval by Anambra State House of Assembly, the law setting up the state fire service would be amended to make it independent of the state Ministry of Public Utilities or any other ministry.
According to the state Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. Don Adinuba, the autonomy would free the fire service from bureaucratic encumbrances and enable it to respond more effectively to the challenges of its mandate.
In addition, he said, the governor had approved the appointment of Air Vice Marshall Ben Chiobi, who is the Special Adviser to the Anambra State Governor on Creative Security and Coordinator of the Anambra State Integrated Security System, as its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, even as the state Chief Fire Officer retains his position.
It should be noted, however, that following the criticisms that trailed the recent fire incident in Onitsha, firemen in the state appear to have changed their attitude to work.
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For instance, when Sunday Vanguard visited some of the stations on Thursday, most of the workers were at their duty posts, with their trucks filled with water ready for action.
Whether the new spirit would be sustained would be known during the coming dry season when incidents of fire outbreaks are usually high.