Shortly after paying N100m in assistance to traders affected by the Ochanja market fire incident of 2019, Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, moved to build a robust State Fire Service.
The emergency services outfit, domiciled under the Ministry of Public Utilities, is in the process of attaining the status of an Agency. The repositioning which will afford the department autonomy and smoother operations is one of the measures the Obiano administration has taken to bolster the unit. Retired Air Vice Marshall Ben Chiobi has already started acting as Managing Director of the Service.
Anambra State Commissioner for Public Utilities, Mr Emeka Ezenwanne said Governor Willie Obiano has brought his typical circuit approach to developmental issues to the task of lifting the State Fire Service. With this framework, fire fighting is conceived and executed as an inclusive process in which virtually every member of society has a role to play.
Following up on the institution of a new order and leadership, the transformation plan entered into capacity building. 120 new operatives were recruited into the Service personnel few months back. The employment of new hands was complemented with the return of training programmes for all cadres.
It was with shock and disbelief that Obiano who has a reputation for boosting workers’ morale with incentives, realised that the monthly hazard allowance of the State’s fire fighters was twenty naira! The stipend had not been reviewed in the past 15 years. He immediately approved twenty thousand naira as monthly hazard allowance. It was the same Obiano who restored the pension rights denied National Light Newspaper workers and liquidated the State Water Corporation staff salary debt of N1.9b inherited from the Peter Obi administration.
To improve the operational power of the department, the Anambra State Government quickly moved to increase it’s fleet of vehicles. It bought 5 new fire fighting trucks and reconditioned 16 other units. In addition, a set of 13 utility vehicles was presented to the Service late last year.
In the implementation of strategies for containing fire threat and outbreak, the State’s 63 markets were identified as vulnerable targets. According to the Public Utilities Commissioner, Emeka Ezenwanne, a response plan has taken off with 5 markets in Onitsha. ‘The State Govt has put water installations at Main Market; Ochanja 1& 2 markets; Ose Market and Marine Market.’
He said that in recognition of the essential role water plays in fire fighting, large industrial borehole and storage facility with reticulation of 500 metres have been provided in the other four markets while the Onitsha main market has reticulation of 1000 metres.
‘When it comes to fire, the action that is most important is the action that happened within seconds or minutes of the fire. When you provide water hose and water hose rail, open it and point the pressurized water at the flames. It’s important that the security man does something before the Fire Service arrive.’ Ezenwanne added that when the Greater Onitsha Water Scheme is reactivated through an unfolding PPP model, it would create fetching points where fire trucks can refill.
While other markets are gradually covered in this protection plan, safety regulations such as provision of emergency exit in buildings as well as standard fire extinguishers will be enforced.
Still pushing on the proactive approach, the State Fire Service has been stepping up on sensitisation cum enlightenment campaigns. In the recent past, it has issued public advisories on fire safety tips, emphasising the need for residents to switch off and even unplug electrical appliances when they are not in use.
Between the third quarter of last year and now, Anambra State witnessed the curious phenomenon of petrol laden tankers slipping and pouring their inflammable content on the roads. In almost all the cases, the revamped State Fire Service responded early and effectively to avert disaster. The new found confidence and professionalism is attributed to what Mr Emeka Ozumba terms the “Obiano Effect”, that is, the reign of standards that has now reached the Fire Service.