Battling poor fire disaster preparedness

Battling poor fire disaster preparedness
Photo: A fire erupts in Tassia estate, Nairobi.

Stakeholders in firefighting and international partners plan major workshop in Thika town

Kenya’s preparedness for fire disasters remains wanting, with only 800 firefighters for a population of an estimated 42 million people. This works out to a ratio of one fireman to 52,500 people instead of the international standards of 1: 400.

Worse, many counties do not have a single trained fireman. While Nairobi County has 140 members of the fire brigade, Kiambu 90 and Machakos 16, many counties such as West Pokot have two trained firemen or none.

Several counties have no fire engines either.  “In Homa Bay, a Land Rover is out of service. Bomet refurbished ordinary trucks into fire engines, but they are not effective. Nyamira, Turkana, Migori and Taita Taveta have no fire engines,” says Kenya National Fire Brigade Association (Kenfiba) Secretary General, Francis Omolo Liech. “The national tally of fire engines is only about 45,” he adds.

Added to this are low pay, lack of insurance cover, firefighting equipment, staff uniforms and protective gear. “Some of our members respond to fires in civilian clothes,” says Liech.

This is why whenever major fires erupt, people die and property worth millions is destroyed. Such lethargy worries international investors.   

The good news is that donors and international fire brigades associations— led by Japan, China, Belgium and Poland— are ready to assist Kenya by offering firefighting equipment, fire engines and training opportunities.

“Belgium has offered 28 fire engines including trucks, Land Rovers, ambulances and an officers car.  Japan donated four fire engines last year and more are expected. China was the first to give us  five fire-engines, and Poland is assisting Kiambu county in training firefighters and providing equipment,” says Liech.

But where will these equipment be housed? “In Nairobi, about 14 plots had been set aside for fire stations but most of them have since been grabbed,” regrets Liech.

Still, trained personnel at the level of the county government will in future enable authorities to come up with buildings that will be secure in case of a fire outbreak or related disasters. Liech says imparting skills to county staff on firefighting remains crucial, as it will equip them with necessary skills instead of rushing to private firefighting firms for assistance.

“County personnel are best placed to deal with fire and disasters such as collapse of buildings. They can also participate in architectural designs in the county government from a position of knowledge,” said Liech as he announced plans by Kenfiba to host a workshop for stakeholders in Thika Town later  in October this year.

The ability by Nairobi County to deal with fires has previously been raised by Nairobi County Chief Fire Officer, Brian Kisali who admitted: “With three fire stations serving over three million people, the county is ill-equipped to handle fires and other emergencies”.

He proposed that a fully equipped fire academy in the country to train fire fighters be set up. “Our firefighters are trained at the Industrial Area fire station for nine months where we just provide the basic trainings of what entails fire- fighting,” he added.

Attempts have been made by private institutions to offer training in fire fighting skills to fill the vacuum, but the importance of the course and the cost puts off many. These include the International Centre of Technology  (ICT) and the Kenya Ports Authority.

“Every other time in our modern society we are stricken by a calamity, we are always confused which way to go for help………we need more trained personnel everywhere to handle life- threatening emergencies,” says Getiro Thaddeus on the ICT Facebook page.

Liech says  firefighters, medical personnel and police, who are engaged in rescue missions, need to know how best to deal with classes of fire outbreaks. “Fire prevention officers should be trained on building materials such as iron bars, soil and the importance of escape routes,” says Liech.

The October 30 to November 3 workshop will be co-hosted by Kiambu County government which has promised financial support and the US Africa Fire Mission, an American non-governmental organisation. Somati Company of Belgium will train fire-fighters on equipment management skills at the workshop and exhibition.

Other partners include PCPM (Polish Centre for International Aid) , international exhibition and event managers Propak, National Chamber of Commerce and Industry  and security services providers, G4S and Securex. “I would like to see architects, building contractors, fire prevention officers, police and chief officers of counties at the conference,” says Liech.    

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