Retired firefigher decries the sorry state of fire-fighting services across the country
Grace Wachira @yaa_grace
Twenty years back, Kenya was at par with Singapore as far as the fire department was concerned. “At that time, we were on the same level even on a development scale but now they are eons ahead of us,” Francis Omollo, the secretary of Kenya National Fire Brigades Association says.
“Their ratio is nothing compared to ours. we currently have less than 100 firefighters serving 4.4 million residents in Nairobi while Singapore has over 8,000 for 3.5 million people,” he said.
He took on the fire fighting reigns in 1981. “I attended training and after that, I started fighting fire,” he says. Francis points out that to date, Kenya has training facilities in just Nairobi and Mombasa.
“By now, we should have already seen more fire fighting training institutions in Kenya because the fires do not only break out in Nairobi.” This is key in equipping the sector seeing as in Nairobi, there are less than a hundred fire fighters.
“Ten are up for retirement this year and nine next year. That will lessen the manpower significantly and that is all because we do not have young people willing to learn how to be fire fighters, coupled with the lack of proper training facilities in Kenya,” he says.
Fire awareness programmes have been run to sensitize people on measures needed to fight fire. “Despite the efforts we have rolled out previously, 90 per cent of Kenyans are still very ignorant of the precautions to take when fighting fire.
Even then, measures to avoid the same are no taken and this is evident in the fact that we have just one fire engine in Nairobi that is meant to serve the citizens in the event of a fire. By now, according to the report we tabled, at least each sub county should have a fire station and a fire engine,” he said.
Fire escape signs are erected and fire extinguishers well placed in the stairways and buildings but that is for small scale fires. “The most common challenge we encountered, even then, was making our way to the scene.
The access roads are dilapidated and not well mapped out. In such instances, if people are well sensitized, they have quick measures they can take to abate the fires,” says the retired fireman.
Even then, when the fires do break out in Nairobi, we are not equipped to fight them. “In 2009, when I hung my boots, we wrote a proposal as Kenya National Fire Brigades Association to the county government to increase resources and even put up more stations. So far, only the Gigiri plot has been reclaimed.
There is also a institution that is coming up in Kiambu County that will assist with training,” he says. Francis is also on the forefront of coming up with a curriculum that can be used to help train fire fighters.
“Fire fighting should be at the heart of every county and the country at large. Without proper fire fighting systems, it is impossible to maintain the investors. Everyone wants to thrive in a safe environment,” he said.