June 07, 2012

The Professional Humanitarian (Part 2)

If help had come early, the over 140 persons, who died in the Dana commercial air plane crash at Iju, Lagos, yesterday might have been saved, residents have said.
When we got to the scene, we saw the plane on the building and it did not explode upon landing. The only fire  from the aircraft was from the cockpit which was not much. It was only ten of us that first got to the scene. That little fire would have been quenchable if there was immediate emergency response from fire fighters. We were even using sachets of pure water to put off the fire before we heard loud explosion after 20 minutes. It was further gathered that the absence of emergency response from concerned authorities, prompted one of the eyewitnesses at the scene to call the Chairperson of Local the Government, who informed the Lagos State Government. - a witness account curled from  Vanguard

PHOTO: Rescuers and bystanders at the Dana Airline plane crash site
At the close of work yesterday (Wednesday) I made a stop at the FCT Fire Service Station at Asokoro where I introduced myself to an officer in a bid to return the next day (Today, Thursday). I was informed I could come in at 9AM to speak with one of the officers

However, 5:30 am this morning, I went for a morning run and decided to branch into the fire station. I got there at 6am sharp unannounced and unexpected to clear the air on an argument I had with a colleague on if our fire service stations are truly manned 24hrs.
I noticed a gathering of firemen and other officials standing in line (seems they had just finished a drill). 
I spoke with Mr S. Ekundayo, Assistant Fire Inspector at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Fire Service Head Quarters, and had a very enlightening discussion about rescue efforts. His comments;

On whether the Fire Service really works...
When we get to a place for a rescue operation, we check the time of arrival (haven already noted the time we recieved their call at our station). This is very important because sometimes people delay calling the Fire Service and throw the blame of the level of loss and destruction on late arrival of the fire service team. Our response time is five minutes maximum.
When you notice a fire or any other emergency situation, it is important to call for help immediately. Sometimes people try to put off the fire on their own then call for help from the Fire Service only after they have tried and failed to put off the fire on their own. In cases where such properties have been insured, the time the fire started, the time the Fire Service was called and the time Fire Service arrived are conditions which may be considered when you need to make an insurance claim. . It is important you call immediately you notice a fire especially if you're not a trained safety personnel.
Information such as the cause of fire, properties involved and class of fire are used by the Fire Service in fighting fire. For instance, if I get a call about an electrical fire, I will ensure I carry the right gloves and other equipments for such an operation.
 Just yesterday night we were at Wuse 2 to put off a fire in a private residence. The fire started from an electrical appliance, airconditioner.

Some challenges during rescue operations...
It is important to have the right equipment for rescue operations. While it is important to get to the rescue site quickly, the right equipments must be at hand. This is one of the major challenges faced by the sector.
Crowd control is sometimes a challenge during fire rescue operations because those witnessing the fire may want to rescue items/property. 
I recall a fire we had to deal with at a market, a shop owner refused to stay back, rushing to try and open his shop and he got seriously injured as the fence collapsed on his legs. It is for this reason I insist you have to think ahead as a rescue worker and ensure enough help is on ground - equipment and personnel.
If the crowd is not controlled properly, they can sometimes grab the branch (water hose) from you. We have seen cases where the crowd will angrily start attacking the fire service and you have to fight the fire while defending yourself from attack of upset bystanders.

Improving rescue operations and safety...
We need to be equipped with appropriate personnel, equipments and gear when we are going in for operations. 
There is also an increasing need for awarness of the general public on Fire Services.
Most of the people that know how to contact and use our service seem to have stayed outside the country and so know about the abilities of the Fire Service. [This may be because only a handful of Nigerian schools teach safety and response in emergency situations].
Also, the Fire Service is not only about fire fighting. It is about disaster management. We can handle floods as well.
For instance, there was a time a dog fell inside a deep hole and the owner called us. They had lived outside the country and knew that a Fire Service team could help with rescue. 
Also, 2 months ago there was an incident with bees in a foreingn embassy here in Abuja. If disturbed the bees could distrup activity around the building as it was a dangerous type of bee. So we went back in the night at which time work had closed for the day and workers had vacated. We went with bags, cut the branch, and the bees fell into the bags. 
It is important to learn the fire service numbers and how to reach out to us. 
Because of the nature and the increasing use of appliances and improvements in technology we use daily, increased focus is on prevention and not just fighting fires. 
It is therefore important you learn how to contact the Fire Service and also to do so immediately. Please don't wait till the fire is out of control.
With better equipments, laws and awareness we can improve safety.
A law will soon be passed which will make it compulsory that approval must be obtained before construction of a building begins. This is to ensure the proposed building has met set safety criteria

On his experience as a rescue personnel...
I like the job mainly because I have to save life and property. You are a different person when you are on a rescue operation.
I studied Chemical Engineering, finished HND from Federal Polytechnic, Bida. I did a Post Graduate in Education Technical after my NYSC. We have several engineers here at the Fire Services as their knowledge of components of the burning material aids rescue operatioins and this is a recent development in the rescue and safety sector.
The profession is becoming increasingly relevant. A lot of people left it in the past because months could go by without a rescue call. Since 2007 there have been improvements in the profession with the provision of better training and equipments to deal with growing need for rescue operations/services.
I started in November 2010 after drill training at Gwarimpa Fire Station. For instance, under fire control training, you get taught how to pick your entry and enter, pick your time, cause of fire and properties involved, class of fire etc.

You have to be very proactive and think ahead during rescue operations. For instance there was a fire at a filling station at Jabi, a tanker was offloading and a fire started. On that case, I knew I had to mount from afar. Yes, I have been injured so many times but that comes with the job. Also, you have to be careful when coming off the fire vehicle because you can get injured if you land on a slippery surface and slide. A rescue officer has to be proactive to be effective in rescue operations and avoid sustaining serious injury.

To contact the FCT Fire Service directly dial 09-29 06 118 (Go ahead and save this number on your phone and memorise it. If you are outside the FCT, ensure learn the relevant one for your location).


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