2021: Preventing fire disaster in FCT by FEMA– An analysis

Fire outbreaks have risen to a worldwide attention in recent years as both an environmental and economic issue. Fire disaster happens to be one of the most common and destructive disasters with colossal loss.

In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) fire outbreak is one of the most frequent disasters that record increase in dry season due to harmattan which is associated with dryness and wind.

The harmattan haze with extremely dry dusty wind blows from the Sahara toward the western coast of Africa.

This mostly happens from November throughout March where quite a lot of fire outbreaks are often recorded due to dry wind, which makes it easy for fire to spread at the slightest ignition.

However, it is not only during dry season we have fire incidences, fire also occurred occasionally as a result of other factors which could be either natural or human activities.

The majority of fires in private and public places including markets in the FCT were found to have been caused by electric surges and other factors including indiscriminate petrol storage, careless disposal of cigarette stubs, adulterated fuel, illegal connection, substandard cables etc.

Also, a good number of the fire incidents happen at night which led to late discovery.

Data also showed that some traders lost their lives to the infernos while some others sustained injuries while trying to salvage their goods.

Hardly a month passes by without reported case(s) of fire incident, especially in public places such as markets.

The Director-General of FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Alhaji Abbas Idriss, confirmed that an average of five fire incidents was recorded daily in the FCT, noting that the frequency of fire incident was too high.

This actually portends huge financial damage to the economy by worsening the nation’s poverty indices.

In July goods and property worth millions of naira, were destroyed by fire at the popular Karmo Market in the Federal Capital territory (FCT).

The market which is overcrowded without accessible roads was about four years ago consumed by similar fire incident which made many traders struggling to start afresh amidst economic hardship when the latest incident occurred.

In November, not less than 16 persons were confirmed dead due to fire disaster following an explosion of a surface kerosene tank at Kubwa.

Barely three weeks after the Kubwa incident, another market located in Nyanya area was up in flames. In the same month, the Federal Inland Revenue Service headquarters in Abuja was gutted by fire.

Also in December, a popular supermarket, NEXT Cash N Carry in Jahi District went up in flame allegedly due to power surge.

This is just to mention a few as they keep on happening on a daily basis.

The incessant fire outbreaks in the city have led to destruction of lives and property just as many victims are still counting their losses.

The Federal Capital Territory Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as the coordinating agency for all emergency issues in the FCT- including fire prevention, mitigation and response, recently held an emergency meeting to enable stakeholders in FCT to brainstorm  towards finding a lasting solution to the recurrent fire outbreak in Abuja

Idriss said some fire incidents, especially in markets, were willful acts carried out by hoodlums to pave way for looting.

He said that the fire incidents occurred in various ways, some with hidden motives, including intent to breach security, “which we must all analyse critically in order to stem the tide’’.

He said that the FCT Administration, in the light of these worrisome issues, considered the meeting as strategic to finding lasting solutions to the recurrent seasonal fire outbreaks and their implications.

“Today’s event is fire-specific is therefore highly significant because of the economic losses associated with its consequences.

“As stakeholders in managing fire-related emergencies, experience has shown that the dry season is a fertile period for fire outbreaks in homes, markets and other public places because of the prevailing weather conditions and nature of vegetation that makes bush burning easier.

“In this season, families make greater use of electric heaters for boiling water because of the cold weather, which often times result in fire outbreaks as a result of negligence and intermittent power interruptions.

“We are to carefully identify markets in the FCT that are prone to incessant fire outbreaks and analyse the causes as well as solutions.

“Faulty and unprofessional electrical connections were among causes which we discovered in some fire incidents.”

He identified faulty and unprofessional electrical connections among causes discovered in some fire incidents.

Idriss stressed that the Abuja Markets Management Ltd., had a role to play not only in helping to identify the markets, including those that have high potential risk of fire disaster.

“Also see to it that fire surveillance is carried out regularly, while rapid response measures are also put in place and maintained.’’

He said that market traders association must be engaged to take greater responsibility for the safety of the markets.

The director general said it was the duty of the Management of Abuja Markets leadership was to ensure that operators in the market through the traders association were educated on fire risk and also carried along in all programmes and activities aimed at ensuring fire safety.

Idriss also called for the review of Fire Service Act of 1963 to meet up with contemporary realities, stating that the act had become obsolete, thus limiting the powers of emergency agencies in the discharge of their duties.

He said that in the FCT, emergency agencies relied on the Urban and Regional Planning Act to carry out enforcement.

According to him, an average of five fire incidents is recorded daily in the FCT, noting that the frequency of fire incident is too high.

To stem the tide, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister of State, Dr Ramatu Aliyu, said that FCT Administration would henceforth ensure that all standard shopping malls have available fire truck for emergency situation.

Aliyu, who sympathised with the management and staff of Next Cash N Carry Supermarket and other victims of fire incidents, commended critical stakeholders for their prompt response.

While also commending efforts at fighting the fire incidents, the minister said that the spirit of sportsmanship exhibited showed that much would be achieved when people work together.

Similarly, the Acting Director, FCT Fire Service, Mr Sanni Saidu, said unorganised markets had been a serious threat to fire safety in the territory.

He enjoined Abuja residents to be more safety conscious by switching off all appliances before leaving their homes or offices.

On his part, the acting Managing Director, Abuja Markets Management Ltd., Alhaji Ibrahim Uzaibat, said the management would ensure that every shop will have fire extinguishers and train traders on how to use them in case of any fire incident.

Also, the Permanent Secretary of FCTA, Mr. Olusade Adesola, enjoined FEMA to take up the challenge of enlightening residents of the territory on the prevention of fire outbreaks and the need to protect themselves and their property, especially in this dry season.

Adesola, while declaring open a three-day capacity building workshop on leadership development, succession planning and mentoring for top and middle cadre officials of FEMA in Abuja, noted that with the dry season, many were confronted with the problem of fire outbreaks.

“Just as it was recently experienced in Kubwa, Nyanya and other areas of the nation’s capital city,’’ he said.

The permanent secretary explained that the core mandate of FEMA include disaster management, disaster risk reduction measures, emergency response, relief and rehabilitation, which had placed FEMA as the lead coordinating agency to all responders of emergency in the FCT.

“As you are aware, for FEMA each season throws up peculiar disaster challenges. During the raining reason, we contended with the problem of flooding.

“These challenges demand the need for FEMA to be forward-thinking and proactive in identifying and mapping out disaster-prone zones of the entire territory for effective and timely response to emergencies.

“They have responsibility to protect us, enlighten us. But the managers of these risk issues must also be trained themselves.

In the same vein, the Comptroller General, Federal Fire Service, Mr Ibrahim Liman, said there was need for the public to promptly call the fire service and other relevant agencies in event of fire outbreak.

Also, the Acting Director FCT Fire service, Mr Sani Saidu, assured that the fire prevention personnel were readily available to safeguard lives and properties.

“Our interest is the FCT residents, public safety and nothing more, we want to reduce the burden on the public hence the 112 toll free number, which is active 24/7. We should all propagate it,” he said.

For the Director-General of NEMA, Ahmed Habib, at a stakeholders session, which was necessitated by the recent fire incident at the Next Cash N Carry Supermarket, the current state of safety modules and measures, especially in mega cities like Lagos and Abuja called for concern.

“Our safety modules and measures are in shambles, the earlier we accept them, the better; fire incidences have become a recurring decimal in our national life.

“If it is not in Abuja, it is in Lagos, it is in Kano, it is in Port Harcourt, dealing with the mega cities,’’ Habib said.

He emphasised the need for owners of big edifice to rejig their safety measures in line with the international best practices.

The NEMA boss assured that the session would produce a report jointly by the agency, FEMA and the FCT Fire Service.

“The report will contain both coordination and response aspects. We will come up with very good recommendations on both sides, which will be a yardstick for the government to take the right decision in ensuring public safety in our public buildings.

“The most important thing is that when we identify the problems, we must provide possible and implementable recommendations that are measurable and achievable,’’ he said.

It therefore behooves stakeholders to sustain efforts towards curtailing the current fire outbreaks in markets and residential areas in the FCT. (NANfeature)