For an effective Fire Service – Hallmark

By The Citizen

Fire on the mountain
A potentially disastrous national fire tragedy was fortuitously averted in Abuja last week. A fuel tanker, which was delivering product to a filling station beside the corporate headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) caused a spark in the underground storage tank resulting in a huge inferno that took close to three hours to subdue, causing panic in and around the national edifice.

In the past one month there have been several fire incidents in different parts of the country, such as the Jos market fire, Onitsha market, Ibadan and even in Lagos, where the 25 - storey Great Nigeria House was torched. Every fire incident is a tale of woe for the people and even the government as it is tragic and wasteful of both private and public property. Even when markets are burnt, governments are usually compelled to rebuild the markets and compensate the victims.

First we commend the effort of the FCT Fire Service for their commitment, dedication and prompt response to another potential national embarrassment and wastage. Arguably, the NNPC building is the biggest and best public building in the nation's capital, and it is only left to the imagination what could have happened to such a national pride had the fire engulfed it.

This publication appreciates some of the operational challenges and environmental difficulties facing the fire services and is decidedly appalled by official neglect of the fire services and utter indifference to fire prevention measures in our town planning and building code. Still, we decry the habitually long delays in responding to fire distress calls. Albeit, with pleading reasons that fail to pass muster in most cases.

Right before our eyes the building and town planning nightmare in our major cities, which originally informed the founding of a new federal capital, is being repeated in Abuja. It is reprehensible that a modern city like Abuja, which was designed to correct the planning mistakes in older cities such as Lagos, is steadily lapsing into the same planning mayhem that it was created to avoid.

No sane official of government should have approved the construction of a filling station beside a national institution and iconic structure like the NNPC House; but somebody did. One could argue that the land or plot may have been allocated before the NNPC building came. Nonetheless, once the decision was made to site the NNPC building there, the filling station should have been relocated, given the inflammable nature of the product sold there. Yet somebody approved the structure without reckoning with its inherent potential danger.

Making hay while the sun shines
It is in situations such as this that Hallmark appreciates the fanatical zeal and dogged determination of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, former FCT Minster, in his quest to return Abuja to its original master plan, which in our characteristic manner had been thoroughly bastardized on the altar of greed and materialism. But, the filling station had to be there, obviously because, a powerful individual owns it. We commend the development effort of the current minster, Senator Bala Mohammed, but at the same time insist that he returns to the master plan and ensures its implementation to guard against the sort of disaster that nearly took place. Otherwise, we might not be as lucky a second time.

There is no doubt that we pay lip service to fire fighting in the country given the near absence of fire facilities and equipment in strategic buildings and places. We construct multi-billion naira buildings and markets without adequate provision of fire-fighting structures. In most cases whenever the Fire Service is called upon to intervene in fire situations, it is either the vehicles are not enough or are in disrepair, or there are no fire escapes or water hydrants in the buildings. The result is that people often watch helplessly while uncontrolled fires devour properties worth billions of naira.

All this comes to one thing: A lack of commitment to a well-articulated and publicized fire policy. Government does not regard fire service as a strategic institution that should be well funded and developed. Throughout the country, the Service is a mere relic of the past and is only relevant and remembered in times of distress. This should not be so. Military strategists counsel that you prepare for war in time of peace. Unless proper investments are made in training and equipment, fire will continue to blight our national life.

This newspaper calls on all governments to take seriously the issue of fire-fighting as an important national duty because frequent fire outbreak is a threat to economic development. There should be sufficient budgetary allocation for the fire services in training, remuneration and equipment to improve their operational performance and make them attractive to young people as a profession. We have to upgrade the fire services to an emergency agency status to accord it the right attention. Government should also increase fire awareness campaigns among the people to avoid such senseless destruction of lives and properties by fire outbreaks.