Just before dawn on the morning of October 6, 2017, a massive fire engulfed Nairobi’s Gikomba open-air market. The fire started at the fish and groceries section before spreading to the clothes section, burning everything to ashes. By the time fire engines arrived, property worth millions had already been lost in the inferno.
The devastation was so complete and the loss profound as traders who rely on the market livelihood counted their losses. A series of fires have happened during this period, claiming lives and property worth a fortune.
A month earlier, another fire razed dormitory at Moi Girls School, Nairobi, killing nine students and injuring dozens of others. Unfortunately, when fire hits, like it did in Gikomba, the fire response system has been wanting, putting the public safety in Nairobi and the rest of the country at risk.
Kenya National Fire Brigades Association (Kenfiba) chairman Francis Omolo Liech says the country does not have capacity in terms of fire fighting equipment, stations and personnel to respond effectively to fire outbreaks.
“Ideally, every sub-county in the country should have a fire station and a fire post every 100 metres, but there are only a handful of fire stations and only 800 fire fighters against 45 million Kenyans. If county governments do not take steps to upgrade safety measures to meet stipulated standards, tragedies cannot be prevented,” he warns.
In Nairobi where there are 17 sub-counties and a growing population has far outpaced the capacity of the city’s emergency services. “We only have two fire stations in Nairobi, one on Tom Mboya street and another on Enterprise road in Industrial area. Most of the fire engines have broken and need repairs and services.
The department is over stretched because it only has 110 fire fighters, yet, the brigade is expected to handle all emergencies across the city,” he regrets. Worse, many county governments have been unwilling to team up with fire fighters by releasing funds to repair the engines and employ more workers to address this issue.
For instance, Mombasa has 110 fire fighters, Kilifi 34, Kisumu 24, Embu seven, Nakuru 19, Eldoret 33, Homabay three and Kakamega 16. Kiambu governor Ferdinand Waititu promised that his government would ensure fire fighters are insured and paid a risk allowance since they work in a high-risk environment.
They will also be hiring more fire fighters as well as talking Kiambu county residents to open up roads for easy of accessibility by fire trucks and ambulances during emergencies. “I urge our youth to apply for jobs at the fire service unit,” he said.