The Ondo State Fire Service was established in 1976 as an agency under the supervision of the Ministry of Works. In this investigation, Daily Times Correspondent, ‘TOSIN AJUWON assesses the poor state of the fire service and why the state government needs to take urgent steps to improve the fire service.
Iyabo Adelabu, a 35-year old petty trader at the Oja Oba Market got home at about 10:00 pm and was hungry. So she dashed to her kitchen, to boil some rice. Having put the pot of rice on her gas stove, she retired to her living room to watch a Yoruba movie to while away the time until the rice was ready.
While watching the movie, Adelabu slept off, forgetting the food she was cooking. Suddenly, she jumped off the couch when she started coughing. On opening her eyes, her living room was engulfed in thick, black smoke. Alas! Her apartment was on fire.
The rice she was boiling had got burnt with the pot, while the kitchen was also on fire that extended to her living room.
Her persistent shouts for help attracted her neighbours who rushed to her rescue.
However, they could not render any tangible assistance because the fire that engulfed Adelabu’s apartment had spread to other houses, making it difficult for her neighbours to help her. A neighbour quickly contacted the office of the Ondo State Fire Service for help.
While the firemen did not respond quickly as expected, Adelabu was, eventually, rescued by some brave neighbours, although, she suffered some burns and lost all her belongings.
Although, Adelabu survived the fire incident, others were not lucky to live and tell the story. Recent cases include the fire incidents that killed Dr. David Akintayo Oguntuase, whose body was found burnt to death in his private clinic and a 60- year old stroke patient who died in Ita-Ogbolu.
The Akure gas explosion also destroyed property worth millions of Naira.
The question on the lips of concerned residents in the state is: what is the role of the state fire service in putting out fire before much damage is done?
It is no longer news that the Ondo State Fire Service, established in 1976, is now a shadow of its effective self.
Daily Times investigation into its activities showed that the state of the agency, with headquarters at Alagbaka in Akure, the state capital, is worrisome. Its building, located on the main road, is dilapidated, while there were no modern equipment to meet the challenges of a 21st Century fire service.
The training school, workshop and parking lot at the headquarters are in a state of disrepair with weeds taking over part of the premises. Funny enough, there is no electricity due to nonsettlement of electricity bills.
Daily Times also gathered that important equipment such as pick-head axes, pike poles, hallligan bars, flashlights, spanner wrenches, circulars, cutter edges, chain saws, rubber shoes and hand gloves, hydraulic rescue tools such as spreaders, cutters and rams, which could have enhanced the activities of the fire service, have gone obsolete.
It was also discovered that the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), designed to withstand high temperature of fire, including Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), Personal Alert Safety System (PASS), Nomex, Bunker gears and carbon flash hoods are decaying at the service’s headquarters in Akure.
Other problems hindering the efficiency of the state fire service include poor morale of staff, lack of proper administration, which, reportedly, allowed some government officials to allegedly mishandle the funds meant to develop and equip the service.
It was also alleged that the efficiency of the service was hindered by the dilapidated vehicles and equipment, which have crippled the fire station. Of all the vehicles parked at the headquarters, only one is functional, although it could break down anytime.
It was also discovered that this fire vehicle/truck serves four local government areas of Ondo State. They are: Akure South, Akure North, Ifedore and Idanre local government areas.
This same fire truck, bought 26 years ago, and originally designed to carry 500 litres of water, is festooned with fissures as it could no longer shoot out water properly in case of any fire disaster and it could only contain 250 litres of water before arriving any scene of fire incident while it could develop mechanical fault.
Although, the state has fire stations in Oka, Ikare, Owo, Ore, Ondo and Okitipupa stations and Akure, which is the headquarters, it was discovered that there were only 63 workers, including ad-hoc staff, with just four men each at Oka, Ikare, Owo, Ondo, Ore and Okitipupa while Akure, the headquarters has just about 21 staff members with three job-shifts in a day.
The workforce is not up to the number of personnel required for a standard fire station.
At its headquarters in Akure, the least officer is on Grade Level 7 and if there was any emergency, there would be no substantive driver for rescue while officers on Grade Level 12 who are not ‘trained driver on the job’ would go for the rescue operation.
It was also learnt that the fire fighters at Okitipupa, Ilaje, Irele and Ese Odo local government areas work 24 hours a day and seven days a week without any free period or annual leave.
Another compounding problem facing the state fire service is that none of the fire stations has proper ‘water pumps’ and this causes delay in getting water quickly and moving to anywhere there is a fire outbreak.
Sadly enough, field officials of the Fire Service usually get assaulted by aggrieved members of the public as a result of their late arrival to scenes of fire outbreak, because they are unaware of what the firefighters face in terms of lack of provision of functional and modern equipment.
Several members of staff of the state fire service disclosed to Daily Times that they were not happy with the conditions they were being subjected to in the service.
Part of their complaints, it was gathered, was that both senior and junior staff exposed to the hazards of firefighting and carry out the dual duties of combating fire at the scene of an outbreak, shall immediately be eligible for a consolidated allowance of 150 % of basic salary, but, according to them, over the years, this had not materialised.
The most pathetic of their plight, according to them, is that they get N15 as hazard and accident allowance for the risk they go through and they must not partake in any strike due to the nature of their job, yet they are poorly remunerated.
According to an inside source at the State Fire Service, in 2010, the state government distributed close to 100 Hilux Patrol vans for federal agencies such as the Nigeria Prison Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Immigration Service and forgot to give a fire truck to its State Fire Service that was lacking good facilities.
The source added that in 2011, a N150 million contract to purchase three modern fire-fighting trucks for the fire service was awarded to a politician and chieftain of the defunct Labour Party (LP) in the state, who had crossed to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Till date, not one of the vehicles had been delivered.
It was also learnt that the Ondo State government was yet to take delivery of five fire trucks, which, it was gathered, were bought and supplied by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) some months ago and distributed to all the oil producing areas to fight oil and gas fire outbreak in their states.
*Published in the Daily Times newspaper dated Tuesday, January 6, 2015