I should think the Nigeria Fire Service is a decentralized institution, meaning each federating state has it own structure and they are so managed. That is all I know. If I goofed, it means there is a huge knowledge gap in this area of our national development.
I also know that in Lagos State particularly, the fire service hardly gets mentioned when the government rolls up its developmental sleeves to account and give us score cards on its achievements. We know of roads, street lights, health centres and hospitals, new estates, transportation and security but nothing about the fire service.
For me, I only fleetingly remember the fire service when I see their octopus buildings near Surulere Police Station or the one at ikeja by the Post Office. Other memorable encounters were their siren-blaring shoves through the annoying Lagos traffic, their vehicles prominently rickety and aged.
Like the police, people allege the fire service is never on time to calls of distress, and since they are poorly equipped, may I also add, poorly remunerated, their record of putting out dangerous or life-threatening flames remains poor.
So, each time, these guys lumber through Lagos traffic to ambush raging fire outbreaks, you could imagine the hisses that trail their passage. There are no songs of praise, no thoughts of goodwill for these men and their families.
Many of them have lost their lives, no insurance, no care after retirement and that’s if they will see through the service, and yet we expect them to go through putting out fire in some very difficult locations, sometimes without even a back-up medical ambulance, not just for victims of such outbreaks but for the injured firemen.
Honestly, the best of how much I know about the fire service is from the movies, not Nigerian movies ooo!!! The firemen are as good as military men and police in terms of training and exposure. Their vehicles are of the best, well equipped and they even have massive cranes that could take them to the top of buildings of great heights and architecture.
In those movies, which teach of the importance of the fire service and the sacrifices made by firemen to save homes, offices and humanity from the ravages of fire and tragedies, those guys also have aircraft or helicopters dedicated to speedy response to most avoidable calamities.
That possibly ends the story for me on this very neglected institution in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos. I have not heard of any serious support and assistance to our fire service. Yes, Lagos claims to have a safety commission but they are not trained fire fighters.
Buildings, public and private, spring up in the state without safety concerns. There are hardly emergency water points on the streets or highways to aid firefighting engagements. I even doubt if these guys are protected against poisonous smoke and other strange fallouts in fire emergency situations.
There are no public workshops or seminars to bring the public together with the fire service to encourage public understanding of what to do when fire outbreaks occur and also on preventive measures, where possible.
What about first aid to victims and management of trauma? And with the rate to how homes and offices are “extended” beyond the original architectural designs, the threat to access for a responsive fire service process is potentially a challenge.
Today, I am a changed person, in full reckoning and recognition that the need and presence fire service in Lagos, nay Nigeria, cannot be overemphasized. And I have a story, happy to be alive to share it with you.
Last Friday, at about nine o’clock in the night, my family and I were midway through the night devotion when a thick smoke from nowhere formed a poisonous cloud around us. I recalled we took our prayer emphasis from Psalm 91 vs 9/10. Indeed, no evil shall come near our dwelling place!
A fire outbreak from a building sharing fence with us raged endlessly. Before one could think of the next thing to do, another building also got engulfed. Family first, and everyone evacuated.
And nothing on me except my pajamas, I flew down the staircase, pulled just one car out of the garage, and waited for the worst. Residents poured out in numbers on the street to help check the inferno, which then looked as if it was coming for our house.
I stood far watching after our “local firefighting team” the neighbours had tried and lost hope of stopping the tongues of fire. At that point, even the assurances that the Surulere Fire Service Station would respond didn’t register.
Do you know prayers work? I petitioned God, on same premise that no raging evil shall come near my dwelling place. Then came a strange wind that seemed to embolden the demon behind the fire.
You know, there are really no greater people on earth like Nigerians. We forgot our irritations, tribe and tongues and joined hands, some with buckets of water, rakes, shovels, detergents, hammers and anything in sight, to help arrest the fire.
There were those who volunteered to watch out for petty thieves, small groups of vigilantes formed rings and protected homes. Calls kept coming and going out, and I had to show leadership as everyone, at that point had given up that help would come.
As chairman of the residents’ association, my worries were no longer personal. Then the siren, a faint one for that matter, came blaring and in less than 20 minutes, aided by neighbours and well-wishers, the Surulere Fire Service quenched the inferno.
Wait for this, and note it because I did! The police, Area C Command, Surulere, responded, unbelievably. They came with bikes and cars, formed a wall of protection and cordoned off the scene of the fire outbreak, provided security not only for the neighborhood but for the firemen.
What a nation and people! Our police, no story of no fuel and no vehicle? Their mobilisation was professional, a people’s police; and Fire Service men, dedicated to humanity, sometimes at the risk of their lives. We cant thank enough the team that promptly answered our calls of anguish and distress.
I can write and testify today because these guys did their jobs, not minding the very hostile and discouraging work environment they contend with daily. Indeed, there is no security anywhere when we don’t really care about the fire service and their welfare. The Lagos fire service deserves attention and empowerment from the “promise-and-do” Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to tackle and ambush threats of fire outbreaks in homes, offices and related accidents in a growing economy like Lagos.