FIRE SAFETY: Building Risk Reduction in Nigeria

Drawing from the national fire statistics database as released by the Data Collation Center of the Federal Fire Service, Abuja for the 3rd quarter of 2019 (July - September), a total number of 176 fire incidents were recorded in Zones A, B, C, D, F, H, I, L & FCT comprising of nine zones of the command in the federation. According to the statistics, an estimated whooping sum of N2.76 billion in monetary value was lost to fire within the period alone (three months).

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Fire Safety
Dr. Ibrahim Liman, Controller General of the Federal Fire Service.

Fire Safety: As the woes of fire disasters across the country continue unabated, the fact remains that if any lessons are to be learnt from these fire incidents; chief among them would be the failure of both the citizenry and the governments at all levels to prevent and prepare for these unexpected disasters rather than trade in the infamous ‘blame game’ tradition that often characterizes the responses of Nigerians to fire disasters in the country.

For instance, following the spate of fire disasters across states of the federation, many Nigerians are often quick to heap the blame on firefighters and by extension the government for their alleged late responses to fire outbreaks and lack of adequate preparations or possession of equipment including water to combat fire disasters.

However, with the level of painful losses experienced as a result of needless fire outbreaks in the country, it has now become decisive for all stakeholders including well-meaning individuals, related government agencies, organizations including religious and corporate bodies, schools’ owners, community leaders, political leaders, traditional rulers and NGOs to toe the path of fire safety and emergency management in their daily activities.

Fire Safety
Federal Fire Fighters undergoing a firefighting drill in Abuja

It’s also perhaps an uncommon fact that effective fire safety management is based upon enforcing fire prevention legislation which will enforce the identification of all the potential risks associated with the various premises and an effective assessment of the adequacy of the measures provided.

Hence, within the context of Nigerian laws on safety, the National Fire Safety Code, for instance, seems to have been dumped in the thrash-can. The code which is a set of rules guiding fire prevention and control in both public and private buildings in Nigeria is no doubt geared towards building fire safety resilience through risk reduction mechanisms.

It is therefore, imperative that existing rules on safety such as are contained in the National Fire Safety Code document are strictly enforced in order to achieve fire risk reduction and by extension a safer society.

To this end, the present Federal Fire Service administration under the leadership of Dr. Ibrahim Liman, determined to ensure a fire safety resilient nation has embarked on pragmatic strategies aimed at repositioning fire service delivery in the country. Since assuming office, he has put in place mechanisms aimed at strengthening collaborative efforts especially with state governments and related agencies that will enhance fire safety resilience and risk reduction in the country.

The CG Fire also informed that 10 additional fire trucks have arrived Apapa Port and are awaiting Custom’s clearance in addition to renovation and construction works at the Zonal Headquarters located in Bauchi, Makurdi, Enugu, Uyo, Abeokuta and Kubwa.

“Within the limits of available resources, the Federal Fire Service has established six (6) additional zonal commands bringing the total number of zonal commands across the country to twelve (12) all with the aim of bringing our service closer to the people and complimenting the effort of the state Fire Services and improving the response time. Six (6) Training schools located each at the six geo-political zones to cater for the training needs of public and private fire safety personnel. These new training schools are located in Katsina, Kwara, Borno, Abia, Cross River and Osun states”, the CG Fire, added.

Speaking to an Abuja-based Safety Consultant, Engr. Michael Ocholo, he was of the opinion that one of the ways a developing country like Nigeria can seek to mitigate disaster risks is to establish and enforce building codes that create uniform standards for construction and reconstructions which the existing National Fire Safety Code has been able to do to a large extent.

He said these codes, if adhered to have the capacity to help address common concerns like building integrity, safety and functionality all of which are essential ingredients in building a fire safety resilient society.

“History has shown that in the absence of code enforcement, people tend towards less costly and faster methods of construction that can leave people and facilities vulnerable. Typically, this is not a result of greediness or lack of care, but rather simple unawareness”, he said.

Mr. Ocholo was also of the view that identifying the simple improvements in construction methods that reduce risks and increase functionality is a first step in the process of building a fire safety resilient society and the nation’s fire service must be seen to be able to effectively communicate to Nigerians why these construction improvements are important.

“It is difficult to make disaster resilience a priority when people are struggling just to cover their basic needs to keep running. Long-term potential future risk is hard to consider in light of a highly restrictive short-term reality. Too often in our society, fire risks are not considered before they occur and what we see every day in our society as a result are devastating effects.

“For example, a common cause of fire among numerous others in our society today is faulty wiring and/or electrical equipment failure or misuse. Another common cause of fire includes cooking and heating equipment that utilize flames in operation. Cooking fires can particularly be hazardous because of food grease that can allow a fire to intensify quickly. Prevention of such fires will involve training and simple procedures for using and turning off the equipment.

“However, there are also ways to specifically protect these areas and prevent the spread of such fires. As contained in parts of the National Fire Safety Code, buildings can be designed to passively isolate and check the rapid movement of fire. This is especially important to consider for fire prevention associated with high-risk buildings. Some of the common features in construction that have this effect are the use of non-combustible materials, the inclusion of fire barrier walls throughout the building, and the inclusion of firebreaks between buildings”, he added.

Disasters of all types can be learning opportunities, where those immediately affected and those in similar circumstances of risk can mutually benefit. The Federal Fire Service and indeed states’ fire services have an important role for planning, informing and educating Nigerians more using the existing National Fire Safety Code about vulnerabilities in the task of reducing risks in our collective developments as a nation.

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