Fire Safety Is a Shared Responsibility

It is said that fire is a good servant but a bad master. For man, fire is a worst enemy though it is an integral part of our daily life. Fire is defined by Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Fifth Edition, Special Price Edition, 1998) as ‘a process of burning that produces light and heat and often smoke and flames.’ So we cannot do without fire as human beings. However, our knowledge of fire is very limited due to little public education on this essential subject.

There are six classes of fire and there are four ways fire can start and spread. There are different types of fire extinguishers too. How much of this information do you know? Our knowledge of fire is the first step towards its prevention. And indeed it is a shared responsibility and ought not to be left to the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) alone. However, we all need some amount of training in fire safety, response and prevention in order to be effective.

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In recent years, our markets have been the hardest hit when it comes to fire outbreaks. This has resulted in the loss of many lives and property running into millions of dollars. Factories, offices, schools among others have also continued to suffer the same fate. Investigations into the causes of some of these fires have been inconclusive and in some cases, have not been made known to the public. Some steps have been taken to bring the rate of fire outbreaks down. How successful have those steps proven to be? 

The reason for which this menace has starred us in the face for all this while is that apart from inadequate public education, there’s lack of enforcement of building regulations. Government buildings have been put up without installation of proper fire safety systems. We have a situation in which market structures have been put up haphazardly without recourse to the existing regulations. So when there is fire outbreak, accessibility to the fire scene becomes a big challenge. But if these markets were properly planned with access routes and fitted with hose reels and fire extinguishers, the impact of fires that often occur there could have been minimized. 

I have spoken to a handful of people on the street and it appears they have no idea what precautionary safety measures to take in case there is fire. Even our knowledge of chemicals and how they should be arranged and stored in warehouses and the rest, is another issue. These highly inflammable materials can cause fire depending on how it is stored. It means a lot of public education needed to be done. 

There are a lot of buildings being put up that have not followed standard fire safety rules. For example, there are no visible exit signs or items have been placed in exit doors/points restricting movements during an emergency, poorly demarcated assembly points, just to mention a few.  
I listened to the Deputy PRO of the GNFS in an interview on E-TV Ghana on a program called ‘State of the Nation’ hosted by Kwame Gyan. The PRO indicated that the Service does not have adequate personnel and logistics. As a way of complementing the shortfall in personnel in particular, in my view, we must be looking at training fire fighters and fire wardens in various markets, churches, schools, offices, banks and financial institutions, hospitals and task them with the responsibility of fighting fires and evacuating people in case there is fire. 

I have also heard on a number of times GNFS officials complain  about the fact that they go to fire hydrants during emergency situations  only to realise they are empty or have been blocked or tampered with and thereby making it inaccessible. My question is how often do they carry out inspections on their hydrant sites?  This does not speak well of our GNFS. They need to be more proactive.

The Ghana National Fire Service is to among other things organise public fire education programs at various work places to create and sustain awareness of the hazards of fire; provide technical advice for building plans to facilitate escape from fire; enhance rescue operations; Create awareness on fire management tools; inspect and offer technical advice on active fire protection equipment i.e. extinguishers, hose reel, risers, sprinklers, alarm and detection systems and offer rescue and evacuation services to those trapped by fire or in other emergency sistuations. These are the mandates of the GNFS but apart from the rescue operations and evacuations, how much of the other mandates do we see them delivering?
In other countries, it is mandatory to have what they call Occupational Health and Safety professionals in every company or organisation. These people have been trained in complex subject areas. Their role is to ensure safe environment for every worker and the building in which they work. They carry out daily inspection of buildings, equipment, electrical switches, sockets and ergonomics.  Indeed their role cannot be underestimated. This maybe too much to afford in our case and that’s why we must innovate. If every organisation is made to employ at least one of these professionals irrespective of the nature of business being undertaken, it would save us a lot cost associated with fires.

It is not enough for government to buy as many fire tenders as possible while people to man such equipment and accessibility remain key challenges. I keep emphasising on public education because almost every fire starts on a very small scale and if people have knowledge about how to tackle small fires, imagine the good it would do to us. I believe if individuals are trained and retrain from time to time, the menace of fire outbreak will be curtailed.

 Note: I will be publishing series on Fire Safety from now on. Do make time to read.


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