BY OMOBA KENNETH AIGBEGBELE
According to Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” Code enforcement simply ensures that everyone exercise their ounce of prevention. The name of the Lagos Police Fire Brigade was changed by the legislation in 1964 to the Federal Fire Service (FFS).In 2007, the Federal Government transferred the agency from the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Urban Development to the Ministry of Interior and since then the story had never being the same again. Since December 2014, when Engr. Joseph Garba Anebi took over the mantle of leadership at the Federal Fire Service; it has been all plethora of achievement, though not without its daunting and enormous challenges.
One of the several functions of the Federal Fire Service is to control, extinguish and mitigate fire outbreaks in both private and public buildings across the country. FFS has the right to break and enter any structure involved or likely to be involved in a fire outbreak and carryout preventive, protective measures by sensitization of the general public on preventive methods. Perform and carry out search and rescue, perform other humanitarian services such as traffic control and also administer first aid services to all and sundry.
While it is not yet Uhuru, it has also encountered a lot of developmental challenges towards repositioning the fire service to where it is today. The service has never been remembered since its inception in 1901 and as such a lot of the facilities and equipment are obsolete, moribund and out of order. But since Engr. Anebi was appointed as the Controller General of the Federal Fire Service (FFS), it has witnessed institutional rebranding and infrastructure transformation notwithstanding the challenges like never before due to the determined nature, capacity development and blueprint brought to bear on the management. “The Fire Service of our Dreams” as encapsulated in his vision and mission statement of taking the service to the promise land.
One of the major challenges of the service is the elimination of the role and functions of the Federal Fire Service. In 2007, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) gave a directive which mandated the Federal Fire Service to cede its operational functions to the State Fire Services inadvertently not taking cognizance of the role of the service during national emergencies. The FFS with relatively trained and experienced fire fighters constituting about 20% of the formal fire fighting force in Nigeria is the lead agency in disaster scenarios involving search and rescue, evacuation of victims and firefighting operations. This is so captured in the various disaster response plans developed for the country. This has resulted in the operational arm of the Federal Fire Service not been funded in the past 8years due to non-provision of budgetary allocation.
Nonetheless, another major factor is the equipment holding capacity and infrastructure of the Federal Fire Service which is dependent on its effectiveness and efficiency in rescue services. The appropriate number of fire stations is very important. Internationally, the acceptable distribution of fire stations is 2.41km radius. This implies that for every 2.4km radius there should be a fire station. In Nigeria, a country with 774 local government areas, with about 358 fire stations is indicative that most local government areas do not have fire stations. This has also resulted in increased response time which is a vital factor in emergency management. The more the distance between stations from the incident, the longer it takes to get to the scene.
Also worth noting is the inadequate fire engines and ancillary equipment. As was mentioned earlier, the equipment holding of the service is a mockery of what is known to be adequate. The fire fighters battle fire at their own peril, with the advancement in technology, the introduction of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and chemical process industries with resultant neglect on fire safety provisions, it is becoming suicidal for fire fighters to battle fire with the state of their preparedness. The fire engines are not only old, obsolete but unreliable. It is like going to war with untested and un-trusted firearms.
Firefighting infrastructures such as communication facilities, fire hydrants/dedicated water reservoir were also not available and out dated. The insufficient training and re-training of fire fighters was also a major challenge then so as to keep abreast with changing trends and times but there were also no budget provisions and the morale of fire fighters and officers were at the lowest ebb.
But since the present administration came on board and with the determined foresight, support and active participation of the Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, coupled with the selfless sacrifice and capacity of Engr. Joseph Garba Anebi, the comatose state of equipment, insufficient funds and low self-esteem have become a thing of the past. As the present leadership is repositioning the FFS to meet with international acceptable standards and enforcing the national fire safety code to minimize fire disasters across the country and has also called on Nigerians to adhere strictly to fire safety regulations so as to prevent disasters in and around offices and public buildings across the country.
Engr. Anebi is a professional fire officer with a lot of experience in and outside the country in fire sector and human capacity development and as such decided to go straight to work to enhance and rebrand the Federal Fire Service in every aspect of human endeavors. A lot of awareness campaigns and sensitization programmes has taken place like never before in order to control fire disasters and prevent any fire outbreak across the country. The management under his leadership was able to refurbish over 40 firefighting trucks and water tankers that have broken down and out of use. As a result of human capital development, the management has also promoted at about 400 junior officers who have been stagnated for years so as to enhance the “espirit de-corp” and boost staff morale in the organization, it has also enhanced the remuneration and allowances and also urged the men and officers to be good ambassadors of the fire service in anywhere they found themselves. As a way of supplementing the efforts of the state fire services, more fire stations were opened within and outside Abuja as well as zonal and state commands, so as to reduce fire incidence, while abandoned projects across the country have been completed as well as newly initiated projects. The Federal Fire Service has also provided sponsorship for state fire service personnel to be trained on fire safety code enforcement at the National Fire Academy, which has created an enabling environment and good working relationship with its various state fire services so as to ensure partnership for efficient service delivery to Nigerians in the areas of fire fighting and disaster management.
However, the human capacity development of the staff is uppermost in the agenda of the leadership as it has strengthened the existing committees within the service, that includes, staff welfare, fire service bill review committee, staff housing and budget planning and implementation committee as well as training and re-training including the upgrading of the National Fire Academy to a degree awarding institution by affiliating it with the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA). The academy has been enabled and upgraded to award PGD, Professional Masters in Disaster Management and Academic Msc in Disaster Management also. This will avail officers as well as Nigerians the opportunity to be trained in disaster management. The leadership under Engr. Anebi has also established a training school in Minna, Niger State, for the training of junior fire officers while it has increased staff strength by recruiting additional personnel and facilitated the elongation of the inspectorate cadre from compass 12 to compass 14.
Also worth mentioning, is the expansion of operational commands to Katsina, Enugu, Minna, Makurdi, Yola, Zamfara, Sokoto, Jigawa, Uni-Jos, Owerri, Delta and Edo State respectively, to enhance service delivery and establish Federal presence at the state level so as to reduce the incidence of fire disasters across the country. In terms of enhancing its private sector participation and collaborations, it has sealed an agreement for public/private partnership with S.W Global to enhance revenue generation of the service and paid scheduled courtesy visits to state governments with a view to intimating the governors on the need to strengthen the state fire service as well as the need for the federal fire service presence in the state to complement the state fire service. The management also sealed an agreement with the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) on the modalities for the administration of 0.25% fire service equipment maintenance fund.
The management has also intensified its efforts to make sure that major projects gets priority towards completion at the National Fire Academy, Sheda, Abuja. That includes: the completion of the construction of fire house at the academy, construction of internal road network at the academy which has reached 95% completion stage, completion of external electrification project at the academy as well as external mechanical service and water distribution supply and the Commandant quarters almost at completion stages. It was captured that the projects also approved places of worship for both Christians and Muslims faithful at the Federal Fire Service headquarters.
FFS has prioritized the payments of benefits and recommendations to deceased fire service officers who have died during active service years while also taking care of their families and wards. However, it has also rehabilitated at about 50 operational vehicles at Abuja and Lagos state respectively. It is currently building Metropolitan Fire Stations each in the six (6) geo- political zones and the Federal Capital Territory, Kano, Maiduguri, Ogun, Enugu and Port Harcourt.
The 19th December 2017, will always remain a remarkable day and an indelible event in history of the Federal Fire Service (FFS) as 23 (twenty three) new fire fighting vehicles, fifteen water tankers, two lorries, one coaster bus and six operational vehicles were commissioned at the old parade ground by the Ministry of Interior, under Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, when he said: “this administration understands the importance of protecting lives and property from fire disasters, because the protection of lives and property is the number one responsibility of any responsible government and it was indeed part of our campaign promise to Nigerians and if this must be achieved then, state of the art firefighting equipment are needed.’’ And also called on all Nigerians to take precautionary measures against fire disasters and comply with fire safety code to ensure safety of lives and property.
The Controller General, Engr. Anebi, thanked the present administration and the august gathering saying, “I want to assure you that I and my men at the Federal Fire Service will put in hundred percent in the discharge of our responsibility of fire fighting and emergency management. “The acquisition of this firefighting trucks and water tankers is indeed a morale booster for us”. Pledging unalloyed loyalty of his men to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he enjoined Nigerians to take advantage of the timely electronic alarm response platform put in place to report any emergencies to the authorities thereby reducing the stakes in firefighting and averting many fire disasters in our homes and offices across the country.
Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele is of CWN, CWAI and President, COCMEGG