The Nation

Fire on the mountain…run Dana, run Nigeria By Prince Charles Dickson

Chicken cannot at this late date bemoan its lack of teeth, and when it sees the snuff seller, it enfolds its wings. (Everything at its proper time and when one sees potential danger approaching, one should take precautions).

I am writing this week’s admonition because of the Dana air crash, but I am not exactly writing it because of the victims, or the airplane owners, I do not care about the Indians who owned the airlines or the Nigerians who were mute while the coffin flew.

I empathize with the families that lost loved ones, I lost Aunty Fati, and Professor Owuliri, I empathize with those that were in their respective houses and were dealt the death blow for no fault of theirs.

I am however more concerned about our disaster management approach and readiness. I am concerned that during the week, the federal government of Nigeria as run by many clowns and few sensible persons decided to treat us to more of their focus less tirade of comical statements. They approved the rebranding of the fire service for effective and efficient service delivery.

Very laughable, rebranding a non-brand, restructuring a non-existing structure, presenting the report, that recommended the re-branding, the chairman of the ‘committee’, Prof. Femi Odekunle advised the federal government to establish a National Commission for Fire Service Prevention and Control (NCFPC), to give boys food to chop, sorry, it said to ‘monitor and enforce fire service laws and standards in the country’.

But before we rebrand the fire service, let me quickly say we don’t have a functional 911 in Nigeria although information booklets list 199 as the ER number. We have no standard emergency response time? In most US cities it is 3 minutes. Both the Fire Service and NEMA are very scary examples of what emergency services should be

I recall recently in an interview, the man designated as Comptroller-General of the Federal Fire Service, Engineer Olusegun Okebiorun, told me that the fire service is inadequate for effective and efficient response to fire outbreaks and other emergencies.

Then marking the 2012 International Firefighters’ Day, he stated there was urgent need for expansion of the Fire Services in the country in order to ensure prompt and desirable response to disasters.

It is a shame that we have no National Fire Safety Code, which would strengthen the enforcement capacity of the Fire Services. People build, people fly, construct and do anything they so desire without taking into cognizance fire service approvals.

It remains an embarrassment that Nigeria, as a country, has some 250 fire stations, while the city of London, which is not up to Lagos, has 233 fire stations. The city of New York has about 1,469 fire stations. Even the ones we have, battle very Lordie Luggardie fire vehicles, leaking hose, and in many cases no water or chemicals, with men and women devoid of training, obsolete equipment, and road traffic jams..

Does the Federal Fire Service fulfill its statutory responsibility to:- Ensure safety of lives and property and give impulse to capacity building of the nation’s fire services through the establishment and monitoring of standards?

In the last 10 years, how many fires have the service prevented, is there somebody reading this, that has been to any fire education and training program, do we have a National Fire Statistics, is there anything like an effective community based fire safety outfit. What about appropriate fire stations and equipment.

How has the fire service provided resource persons for commissions of enquiry whenever they are set up to investigate the cause of a fire or fire related incidence like that in the aftermath of the crash and provide recommendations to forestall future occurrences.

I do not need to state that this is not just about the fire service, but all our emergency outfits, how do we promote fire prevention and teach basic fire fighting in markets, schools, hospitals, industries, corporate organizations and the hospitality industry.

Is it not true that the initial fire of the Dana crash could have been contained but for the fact that, pure water was used to fight an aircraft fire, and that some of the early rescue was done by people bent on looting and the fire service and NEMA nowhere to be found.

Is it not a case of fire on the mountain knowing full well that we possess no operational preparedness for disaster management through simulation and management in collaboration with Stakeholders within bodies like NEMA?

How many states have SEMA or state NEMA or LEMA or even Community Emergency Response Teams? Customers whose properties are on fire call Federal Fire Service for help. The expertise and experience needed to make the hopes of the customers realizable are in the service are painful in the light of the damage that one sees after the disaster that was preventable.

I dare say that, with what we call the Fire Service and NEMA, it is not a miracle that we do not have tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes, if not Nigeria would go under. That there is a need for reorganization of fire services in the country for productivity is an understatement.

There needs to be a public awareness education on emergency number (119) with intent on it working, and NCC input to make the same binding on all private telephone operators. One does not need to talk about collaboration with water board for improved water supply and fire hydrant installation. There should be partnership with Federal Road Safety Corp on awareness education about right-of-way for Fire Fighting Vehicles on emergency calls.

We cannot keep depending on Julius Berger and construction companies as first responders to fire disasters and other such disaster. The Yoruba’s say Abiyam? kì í rìn kó ?ánwoìò ahá, meaning that a nursing mother does not venture away from home without a cup. We in these climes, leave home even without the baby, and have no intention of carrying a cup, have we learned anything from the Dana Crash, do we learn anything from our numerous disasters, or we just leave home, without a cup, time will tell.

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