Why Nigerians Need To Stop Attacking Firefighters - Naptu2
"Why Nigerians need to stop attacking firefighters" - By Naptu2

It has become quite common for some Nigerians to attack firefighters that turn out to put out fires. Firefighters have been beaten up, stoned and have had their equipment damaged by angry mobs while trying to do their jobs.


An Abia State Fire Service truck that was destroyed by a mob

The vandals are usually angry either because the water in the fire engine has been exhausted or because they believe that the firefighters have arrived late to fight the fire.

However, the fact that people have been attacking firefighters for decades has not improved fire fighting services. The water in fire engines still get exhausted and firefighters still turn up late to fight fires. This is because the mobs are attacking the wrong people.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9rPpeov2eA
An angry mob destroys an Abia State Fire Service truck.


Firefighters are among the least paid people in Nigeria. They do an extremely difficult and dangerous job without the required equipment. There are things that would ensure that firefighters do not run out of water and that they arrive on time to fight fires, but the firefighters are in no position to provide those things. The public need to hold the people that can provide those things to account, rather than attacking the poor and innocent firefighters.


Who are the people that are meant to provide these things?

Firefighting equipment are meant to be provided by governments and these governments are led by politicians. Politicians are usually asked questions about security, the economy, jobs, roads, etc. when they are campaigning for office, but they are almost never asked questions about the Fire Service, yet people keep attacking innocent fire fighters. Your local government chairmen, state governors and the president are the people that are meant to provide equipment for firefighters to use, but you never ask them about these issues, yet you attack innocent firefighters that are trying to do a difficult and dangerous job with little resources. Everybody forgets about the Fire Service during elections, only to attack them during a major fire outbreak and then forget about them again after the news of the fire outbreak has died down.


What are the equipment that the government should provide so that firefighters can do their job?

These are the things that our firefighters need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively:

1) Fire hydrants

A fire hydrant is a means through which firefighters can connect to an almost unending supply of water. Fire hydrants enable firefighters to fight large fires without worrying that the water would run out.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmwapQkd2JI
A fire hydrant at the Eko Atlantic City

Some people believe that we cannot have fire hydrants in Nigeria because they believe that the hydrants would be vandalised or that there would be no water in the hydrants. That's not true. There have always been fire hydrants in Nigeria.


A fire hydrant in Lagos

I saw fire hydrants and post boxes (pillar boxes) in the old parts of Lagos when I was a kid. This was in the Broad Street and Central Lagos area. The people that I asked about the hydrants said that they were installed during the colonial era and the early 1960s.

Some private companies and individuals have also installed fire hydrants on their premises in order to protect their buildings. For example, Union Bank built the tallest (or second tallest) building in Nigeria and they wanted to protect it, so they provided a fire hydrant near the building. There are other private buildings that also have fire hydrants that were provided by their owners, for example, the St Nicholas Building on Lagos Island.


A fire hydrant at the recently commissioned headquarters of the Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring Board, NCDMB, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.

In more recent times fire hydrants have also been provided by the Lagos State Government led by Governor Babatunde Fashola. At that time a decision was made to equip the emergency services, but what was interesting was the way in which they were equiped. Instead of the usual practice of politicians buying whatever they feel that the emergency services need, the emergency services were made to provide a list of their needs and then they had to defend that list before government agencies like the Lagos State Security Trust Fund.

In the case of the Fire Service, this meant that the firefighters, who are the experts in the field, determined what the government provided. It was at this time that a lot of new fire hydrants were provided in Lagos.

The Ambode administration also took up the mantle and replaced some of the old underground hydrants with pillar type hydrants.

Therefore, there have always been fire hydrants in Nigeria and fire hydrants can work in Nigeria. However, there are still many problems.

Many of the older fire hydrants that were erected during the colonial era and the First Republic are no longer connected to reliable sources of water. Some of those hydrants have not been used in decades and it is impossible to open them quickly in an emergency. For example, there was a fire at Lapal House in 2002 and a firefighter told me that they were pleased when they discovered that Lapal House had a fire hydrant. However, they could not open the hydrant because it had become stuck with rust because it had not been opened since the the building was built in 1978.

Some states do not even have a single public fire hydrant and the number of hydrants in states that do have them is very small. This has led to a situation in which firefighters need to race back to their stations when water in their trucks run out.

Aerial telescopic turn-table ladder (aka snorkel)

This describes a fire truck that has a long ladder mounted on a long mechanical arm, with a bucket or platform at the end of the arm. It is used for fighting fires in tall buildings and rescuing people that are trapped in such buildings. The term "snorkel" is a nickname for the mechanical arm.


A Lagos State Fire Service snorkel fighting the fire at Balogun Market in 2019.

There was a fire at Net Building in January 1983 (I was actually on Broad Street on that day) and the building was thoroughly gutted. A lot of people died in the fire and some jumped to their death. It was a national calamity because Net Building was a national landmark at the time. Foreign stations often showed the building in news reports about Nigeria, it was part of Lagos Television's news graphic, it was the tallest building in West Africa and people saw it as a national landmark, kind of like the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and Red Square in their respective countries.


A New York Times article about the fire at Net Building.

President Shagari stopped to see the burning building on his way to India, but the crowd at the scene called him a thief and booed him.

The Federal Government set up a panel to investigate the cause of the fire and recommend measures to prevent similar occurrences in future. One of the recommendations of the panel was that the fire service needed a snorkel.

A snorkel was bought for the Federal Fire Service and it was kept at their headquarters on Campos Street. I often saw the firefighters practicing rescuing people from a tower at their headquarters using the snorkel.


The snorkel that was bought in the 1980s is still at the old headquarters of the Federal Fire Service on Campos Street in Lagos.


The practice tower at the old Federal Fire Service Headquarters on Campos Street in Lagos


The old Federal Fire Service Headquarters on Campos Street in Lagos.

However the snorkel had broken down by 1990. There was a fire at NEPA Building on April 21st, 1990 and the fire service could not deploy the snorkel because it was not working.


Union Bank built what some consider to be the tallest building in Nigeria and it was commissioned c1997. They wanted to protect the building and prevent what happened to Net Building in 1983 from happening to it, so they set up a Union Bank Fire Service station opposite the building (on the Marina) and equipped it with a snorkel. That snorkel became the only working snorkel in Lagos at that time.


Union Bank Snorkel fighting the fire at Balogun Market in Lagos.

There was a fire at a tall building on the Marina in the early 2000s and both the Federal Fire Service and the Lagos State Fire Service could not effectively deal with it. It took the intervention of the Union Bank Fire Service to put the situation under control. The CEO of the company that owned the building showered praises on Union Bank when he was interviewed on STV News.


A Union Bank snorkel fighting the fire at Balogun Market.


Union Bank snorkel

The situation improved during the administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola. The fire service requested for snorkels and his administration bought several snorkels for the Lagos State Fire Service.


Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola watching a demonstration of the use of a snorkel at the Lagos State Fire Service Headquarters in Ikeja.


A snorkel and other fire trucks of the Lagos State Fire Service

Over in Abuja, the Obasanjo administration hosted a lot of international events in 2003 and these included the All Africa Games and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The administration built a lot of structures for these events, including the Abuja National Stadium and the Aso Rock Villa Banquet Hall and the fire service advised them that they would need a snorkel to protect the structures, so the Federal Executive Council approved the purchase of snorkels for the Federal Fire Service in Abuja.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k73utR3BOsQ
A snorkel fighting the fire at Balogun Market

The report of the approval caused controversy on Nairaland back then (c2006). The report stated that the FEC had approved the purchase of fire trucks and it stated the price of the trucks, so some Nairalanders googled the price of fire trucks (water tenders) and compared it to the price quoted by the FEC and decided that the FEC's price was too high. However, the FEC had stated the price of snorkels, not water tenders. I don't know if the snorkels were eventually bought.


The problem is that the snorkels are not enough and many states that have tall buildings do not even have snorkels.

Two years after the fire at Net Building there was also a fire at Cocoa House in Ibadan. Cocoa House was the second tallest building in Nigeria at that time. The fire substantially damaged the building. What happens if there's a fire at Cocoa House again?

Snorkels are very large vehicles and it's not easy maneuvering them through the traffic of Nigerian cities, yet I heard the head of the Lagos State Fire Service say (on Jimi Disu's show) that the snorkel at Onikan could be moved across the city if needed. Districts like Marina, Ikeja, Apapa and Victoria Island should have a snorkel each.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XhocNsE9TY
A snorkel fighting the fire at Balogun Market

Major cities like Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Enugu and Kano also need many snorkels, but they don't have.



Motorcycles

The Federal Government bought BMW K100 motorcycles for the Armed Forces and the Police c1986 and I was happily surprised when I discovered that they also bought the same type of motorcycle for the Federal Fire Service. However, I never ever saw any of those motorcycles being used for fire fighting operations.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9EwcMT-1lM
BMW Firefighter motorbike

Motorcycles are used by fire services around the world for a variety of purposes.

Some fire service motorcycles are equiped with fire fighting equipment and are able to fight small fires or help to contain large fires before the fire trucks arrive. They have the advantage of being small enough to maneuver easily through traffic in order to arrive at the scene of a fire before the big water trucks.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DigfHfOgDpk


Some fire service motorcycles serve as outriders that clear a path through traffic for the big fire trucks to pass.


I do not know of any fire service in Nigeria that currently uses motorcycles.


Radios

I believe that most of the fire trucks and fire houses in Nigeria have radios, however, it is also necessary for the individual firemen to have radios so that, for example, a firefighter in a burning building can communicate with the fire truck and vice versa. In many fire services in Nigeria they communicate by tugging on the fire hose.



Direction aids

Firefighters need to get to the scene of a fire fast, but they can not do that if they do not know where it is.

The Fashola Administration in Lagos erected a lot of street signs so that the police, the fire service and the ambulance service would be able to find their way to the scene of emergencies easily, but some of those street signs were removed or covered with warnings by LASAA.

A guy tweeted about the difficulty he had with the emergency services because he called them to respond to an emergency at Marine Bridge. The woman that answered the call kept saying "Marina Bridge", while he was referring to Marine Bridge. Marine Bridge is in Apapa, while Marina is on Lagos Island!

The emergency services need proper street signs, numbering of houses and other aids like Google maps to be able to arrive the scene of an emergency on time.






The People

However, it's not just the government that needs to make the job of the firefighter easier. The people (the masses) also have a role to play.


Give way to fire trucks

Many Nigerians will swiftly give way to police vehicles, military vehicles and motorcades of politicians because the policemen and soldiers are armed with guns and whips, but they will never give way to a fire truck or ambulance that is responding to an emergency because the firefighters and ambulance attendants are not armed.

Some people will even tell you that the fire trucks and ambulances are not responding to any emergency and that they just want to beat the traffic. I wonder how they know this when they do not have access to the information that the firefighters and ambulance drivers have. Yet these people will be the first to complain that fire trucks and ambulances do not respond to emergencies on time.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4GbR7Pgf4Q
Motorists and toll gate operators refuse to give way to a fire truck at the Admiralty Toll Plaza in Lekki

Adequate fire stations

Back in the 1990s I was thinking about how major parts of Lagos did not have fire stations. There were no fire stations in Yaba at that time, apart from the Unilag Fire Station, there were no fire stations in Lekki and so on and so forth. This meant that firefighters had to come from a long distance in order to fight fires in those places.

The Fashola Administration created more fire stations, for example the Onikan Fire Station and the Lekki Phase 1 Fire Station, but I'm not 100% satisfied with those fire stations because they don't have actual fire houses.

Often times when new districts are created, the government and private developers concentrate on building new shopping malls, police stations and other facilities, but they often do not make provisions for fire stations. Fire stations are often only built (if they are ever built) as after thoughts, many years after the new development has been completed.

The absence of fire stations in these districts means that it would take a longer time for fire trucks to attend to fire outbreaks there.



Accessability

This is the responsibility of both government and the masses. There was a fire at the African Independent Television (AIT) in Abuja in the 2000s. The fire service turned out to put out the blaze, but they couldn't gain access to the premises because the gate was too narrow. The fire fighters had to break part of the wall in order to gain access to the premises, yet they are firefighters, not demolition experts.


Similarly, there was a fire in Central Lagos in the 2000s, but fire trucks could not get to the scene of the fire because the streets were too narrow. They had to join lots of hoses together in order to be able to put out the fire.

The government should make laws that would make it mandatory for people to make their premises accessible to the fire service and they should enforce such laws.


Fire suppression system, fire exits, etc.

Certain buildings like skyscrapers, very large halls and factories should be mandated to have fire suppression systems. This is because it is very difficult to fight fires in these kind of structures and the fire suppression systems would either stop the fire or contain it, thereby making the job of the firefighter much easier.







By now it should be very clear that beating up firefighters and destroying their equipment  will never lead to an improvement in fire fighting services and instead citizens should channel their energy into making their government to properly equip the fire service and make and enforce laws that would make their job easier.


https://naijachronicles.wordpress.com/2020/09/04/why-nigerians-need-to-stop-attacking-firefighters/

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