By Mbakaan Linus
Billows of smoke becloud the skylines creating a fuzzy and hazy atmosphere. At a closer look, a high rise is engulfed in a wild inferno. Nothing could be salvaged. Three lives are reportedly lost and properties worth millions destroyed in the process. The victims are crying, mourning and helpless. Neighbors and a few good people are helping to salvage the situation. It is useless. A loud explosion is heard. The building is finally engulfed in unquenchable flames. An hour into this bizarre and solemn atmosphere, the fire service truck pulls up whirling its red lights accompanied by siren. The crowds boo them as they jostle to fight an outbreak that is an hour too late. This scene describes a typical fire outbreak on any given day in Nigeria.
What is a fire outbreak and how can it be prevented? What preparations have we put in place as a people to contain fire outbreaks in Nigeria?
Fire outbreak is a dual word description for a single incidence; Fire on one hand and outbreak on the other. Fire is defined as the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion releasing heat, light and various reaction products. Outbreak on the other hand is defined as a sudden violent spontaneous occurrence usually of an undesirable nature.
Put together, technically, fire outbreak can be defined as a sudden violent and spontaneous occurrence of rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process leading to the release of excessive combustible heat.
Fire outbreaks occur for various reasons. They could be natural or unnatural. Natural fire outbreaks arise through Acts of God like lightning and thunderstorms, upsurge in electricity, volcanic eruptions etc. Unnatural causes could be attributed to Arson, carelessness and negligence or a fault in electrical connections etc.
Regardless of the cause of fire outbreaks, their occurrences are a dozen for a dime in Nigeria. A day hardly passes without one hearing of one case of fire outbreak or the other. The media is awash with stories of deadly fire outbreaks often caused by most avoidable reasons.
In Kano State alone, no fewer than 123 lives were lost and 1, 721 lives were saved from the 660 fire outbreaks recorded across the state from January to December of 2017.
According to the Fire Disaster Prevention and Safety Awareness Association of Nigeria Incessant fire outbreaks has cost the national economy about N6 trillion in the last five years, with major cities like Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt , Abuja experiencing serious consequences of the scourge.
Experts in Fire and Disaster Management say the losses could be more as no valid Fire Statistics Database exists. For instance, the Kano market fire alone was estimated at about N2 trillion worth of goods which was lost to a single fire incidence”.
These perennial fire outbreaks poses serious threat to the national economy, as it leaves enormous material damage, injury to persons and disruption of economic and commercial activities of the people affected.
The economic implications of fire outbreaks to investment and growth of the nation cannot be over emphasized. The high incident rate of market fire in particular has serious economic consequences of depriving families of shelters, trader’s means of livelihood, investors of properties, lives lost etc.
Fire fighting in Nigeria and the present efforts in containing fire outbreaks is significantly challenged at all levels. These challenges include poor firefighting equipment and vehicles, weak and sub standard training, infrastructural decay including bad roads, low safety awareness on the part of citizens etc.
At the federal level, there is tremendous improvement in the funding and equipment holding of the federal fire service, the present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari has for the first time invested substantially in the infrastructure and equipment for the federal Fire service.
The State and Local level fire service is clogged in the old ways. Fire service is more or less placed at concurrent list, which mandates the Fire service to be under the jurisdiction and control of the states.
“The major challenge is how to redirect the mindset of the state governors and their Parliaments to also see the need to invest in the fire sector. Unfortunately, all attempts to make this possible have never been successful except for some few states that are making some efforts.
In view of the above, the following are the recommendations:
There is need for the Fire Service in Nigeria to be overhauled, re-engineered and repackaged and to actualize this phenomenon, a situation whereby all Fire Services in Nigeria (states and federal) come together as one unified body and under one umbrella would be a step in the right direction as it will enhance uniformity as well as ensuring standard in the service.
State Parliaments increase budgetary allocations to State Fire Service in order to improve service delivery across Nigeria
Amend the legal framework to allow Private Fire Service providers to intervene in fire service delivery across Nigeria
Constant training and retraining of fire service personnel across Nigeria
The need to involve the Civil Society intervening in Fire and Disaster management towards the sensitization and awareness creation of the masses on safety measures
In conclusion, fire outbreaks in Nigeria have assumed a disastrous proportion which can be described as an emergency situation. All hands must be on deck to reduce to the barest minimum the incidences of fire outbreaks and its attendant losses.