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Opinions Wed, 14 Jul 2021

Freeing our priorities from the shackles of misplaced priorities: National Fire Service in perspective

For a nation to run more efficiently, state institutions in the country must really be seen discharging their mandate to the optimum with a high sense of professionalism.

Therefore strong institutions, and not strong persons, are the pivot around which the development agenda of any country revolves.

But having effective institutions goes beyond just building structures. It takes relevant skilled human resources as well as state-of-the-art ultra-modern tools, equipment, and machinery to achieve this.

In Ghana, many institutions and agencies are often unable to give up to their optimum efficiency due to failure by successive governments to equip them with the requisite logistics to effectively fulfill their mandate to the public to the extent this even transcends to those providing essential services.

The Ghana National Fire Service is no exception that faces such a similar fate. Indeed, it will be farfetched to expect the government to be in the position to provide from A to Z, everything a state institution needs due to our meager resources available.

But if we cut down the boondoggling we see in this country to an appreciable level, we should be able to significantly retool our institutions to enable them to realize their maximum potential so as to improve the lives of the citizenry.

A brief note on the Ghana National Fire Service.

Established under Act 219 to extinguish fires and provide humanitarian services, the Ghana National Fire Service was re-established by Act 537 in 1997 with a broad objective of prevention and management of undesired fires and other related matters to include rescue work in addition to their mandate of the fire fighting enterprise.

That includes the inspection of high-rise and commercial buildings equipped with the necessary fire engineering, to organize and educate the public on the hazards of fire, Road Traffic extrication, and other related activities.

Challenges

Unfortunately, the service is bedeviled with many teething challenges that hinder the smooth operation of its running.

For instance, one of the relevant tools critical in the fire fighting enterprise is the fire hydrant.

A fire hydrant is a connection point where firefighters can tap into a water supply where ever to refill the fire tender. Hydrants which come as either underground ones or above-ground pillar-type are a critical component in the fire fighting business.

The absence of these compels fire officers to trek far distances to refill the fire tender to get back to the fire scene to finish dousing the inferno by which time, the fire might have caused irreparable damage and sometimes even resulting in loss of lives.

Our sources of the service at the Wa outfit, for instance, told us that almost all the existing hydrants in the Wa Municipality had either been overtaken by structures or not serviceable or functional at all. As a result, fire officers do not have ready access to the regular water supply to aid their operations.

The effect of this is the constant backlash our fire personnel face out of ignorance from the public, for what many think is nonchalance and unprofessionalism on their part for often "going to fight fire without enough water in the fire tender".

Meanwhile, what the public is ignorant of, regarding the fire tender is that it gets to empty its whole water content in less than ten minutes due to the high pressure involved in discharging the water. So the higher the pressure, the faster the tender is emptied.

And it is the intensity of the raging fire that determines the extent to which the operator of the tender would increase the pressure.

When the tender runs out of water, it means the fire tender leaves the scene to go for refilling by which time the damage might have been done since a raging fire would not wait for anyone.

To help check this, there must be a concerted effort for the provision of enough hydrants across the country and for that matter, to aide fire service personnel in the smooth discharge of their operations to ensure the safety of the populace.

Against this backdrop, it is my sincere intent to pen this piece so as to provoke an intellectual discourse around this all-important subject to challenge the status quo in order to cause a change from the usual slumber and nonchalance of our authorities.

Just recently, I heard in the news of how the Fire Service hierarchy has triggered an initiative to taking stock of fire hydrants across the country apparently, to try fixing the long-standing problem which is commendable but long overdue.

Indeed, it is surprising why the Ghana Water Company mandated to ensure there are enough hydrants is doing very little in that regard. Can funding be the issue here?

In any case, a natural disaster is an inevitability with the propensity to strike at anyone be it, domestic, commercial, vehicular, accident, electrical, and so on. One can lose everything within a twinkle of an eye to fire.

Having said this, our concerned youth associations in our towns must work in collaboration with the media to champion this worthy cause to see to its fruition since two ants do not fail to pull a grasshopper.

To achieve this, it must be approached devoid of any political undertones. Let the politician know our loyalty is first and foremost, to the nation and our well-being is more paramount to us than any political party. This is about the welfare of the people and must be confronted head-on with all the arsenals we can marshall.

Imagine losing a property you used all your life savings to build, not talk of losing one's precious life to fire, just because the Fire Service is not well resourced to execute their mandate well. We know of how a whole family is sometimes consumed by an inferno.

It should not be a nine-day wonder. We should not go to sleep after just talking about it a few times in the media as is synonymous with Ghanaians on many issues of national until we chalk a significant achievement in this. We must keep pushing till we accomplish this agenda. The MMDAs and Ghana Water Company Limited are there to serve us and not the other way round.

To make matters even worse for the Ghana National Fire Service is another long-standing hurdle that greets the personnel at almost every fire scene is the issue of access.

Due to our failure as a people to properly plan our towns and cities well, despite the existence of the relevant institutions and agencies with that mandate, such as the Town and Country Planning Department, people erect structures haphazardly everywhere with brazen impunity, knowing they would always found their way out on the back of authorities whose jiggery-pokery and avarice tendencies reign supreme at the expense of the welfare of the ordinary citizen.

A cursory look at our communities would reveal neighborhoods riddled with such illegal extensions of structures sprouting everywhere that impede access in times of an emergency requiring the services of a fire tender or ambulance.

But because we do not see the need to prioritize our welfare, we sit aloof and prefer to be reactive in our ways. We prioritize and invest in less important things at the expense of more serious ones.

Until such a time when we find such visionary and result-oriented figures in the shape of the current Greater Accra Regional Minister, brave enough to embark on a massive exercise to crack down on all illegal structures in our communities, regardless of the pressure from even his political party, we will continue to remain in the quagmire we find ourselves now.

Another challenge hindering the smooth operations of the fire personnel has to do with the prank calls sometimes put to their emergency lines. Acting on such calls, they would rush to such areas only to realize they have been deceived by some uncivilized nincompoop of a human being.

I think it is important the outfit liaise with the mobile network providers to devise a way of arresting such deviants so as to mete out severe punishment to such misfits in society deterrent enough to scare away like-minded people thinking to toe the same line.

The National Fire Service is one essential service provider that needs unprecedented retooling so as to ease their running particularly in the Upper West Region where fire hydrants are almost non-existent at all, and the country at large.

Imagine what the resources government gives to reimburse traders in times of fire outbreaks in our markets could have been used for other developmental projects to improve the lives of the people especially in rural Ghana where the rural folks still struggle to get potable water to drink or access quality health care.

The provision of fire hydrants, for instance, is not certainly something that is beyond our Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to provide. It is just about collaborating with the Ghana Water Company Limited to get this done.

Our failure as a people to set our prioritized right continues to be our bane that hinders our development. It is high time we set ourselves free from the shackles of our misplaced priorities.
Columnist: Ilyaas Al-Hasan