Shame that is the city fire brigade

What you need to know:

  • The inferno at city institute exposes a department unable to respond to tragedy

A house catches fire in a city estate. The owner is in a daze, but a neighbour remembers to call the Fire Brigade.

“No answer,” the neighbour’s mobile phone displays after several attempts to get the city fire department through their emergency number 2222181.

That is what happened to Mrs Stella Mwangi on Thursday last week when she called the Fire Brigade to report a fire that was consuming the Kenya Water Institute in Nairobi’s South C.

Not even the Nairobi PC Njoroge Ndirangu could get a reply from the firemen. When the Nation contacted the PC after desperate attempts at the time, Mr Njoroge said he had also called the fire station but had received no reply.

“I have tried. No one is picking up the calls,” the PC said, adding: “But I’ve called the GSU and they are on their way.”

At about 11.15pm, the Nation called back the emergency number. A man picked up the phone but maintained that there was no vehicle to be sent to the scene of fire.

“No vehicle here. Even if you shout it won’t help. Tell them to put out the fire... the rains will help them,” said the man who refused to give his name.

The PC called our offices minutes later and said the fire had been contained by fighters from G4 and GSU who had travelled all way from Ruaraka, 20 kilometres away.

Fire fighting services still fall way below international standards that require at least a fire station equipped with five fire engines in a population of 200,000.

Often city residents can only watch helplessly as fires and other tragedies reveal the weaknesses in the only source of reprieve. In one week, three fire outbreaks were reported in the city, with no single fire engine from the fire department sent to quell the fires.

A Nation investigation revealed that 18 fire engines are grounded for reasons such as clutch failure which require less than Sh10,000 to repair. Only one fire engine is operational in the city.

Deputy fire engineer Peter Ngugi, on Friday conceded that the department lacked enough fire fighting equipment.

Mr Ngugi, who was speaking by telephone, said there were only three fire engines in their yard. “We have a problem. All our vehicles are grounded and we are currently using a single engine” he said.

The department is also hit by a shortage of 350 staff. So far only 150 are available. Of these 50 are on casual basis and untrained while 100 are fire fighters.

The department is supposed to have 500 employees. Kenya Local Government Workers Union vice-chairman - Nairobi Chapter, Mr John Malimos, on Tuesday blamed the long procurement process for the grounded vehicles at the yard.

“There has been no new employee since 1987,” said Mr Malimos.

He added: “Even for a simple procedure that requires Sh3,000, that process may take three months.” He called for the autonomy of the department to have their director answerable to the Town Clerk.

“The fire director would present in the full council meeting our problems,” he added, and asked the council to recruit young graduates. “Training an old dog is very hard.”

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